Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Realism is important in fiction, especially when we talk about plausibility. For example, a plot should always be plausible and realistic. In our everyday lives there are laws and rules that prevent us from presenting a Pollyanna existence for our characters. Always, a writer should include those rules and conditions and not circumvent them. This gives credibility to our work.

However, there is another type of realism that some authors claim adds credence to a novel. Cursing and worldly situations are added to Christian fiction by authors in an attempt to add “realism” to a story. In actuality, that realism is a compromise with the world’s standards.

When this type of realism is touted, the first two questions should be, “Whose realism are you trying to recreate, and who are you trying to reach?” The honest truth is that few decisions are made for Christ over a beer in a bar. Compromising with the world to reach the lost does not work.

The Christian reality is that we strive to be like Christ. While Jesus reached out to the lost, our sinless Christ never took part in sin. To compromise with the world and put into print words that should not be uttered and sights that should not be seen, an author is telling the world that he or she is not interested in thinking or having others think upon those things that God would have us to put into our minds: “whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of a good report…”

This does not mean that Christians are perfect, that we don’t curse, or that we don’t find ourselves in situations where we shouldn’t be. No, we all make mistakes, but we should look at the world’s realism as it truly is: a reason for us to sin or to cause others to stumble into sin.

This also does not mean that we need to present a Pollyanna world in which everyone is perfect, and that we never take on the issues that Christians (and non-Christians) face in the world around us.

That’s not realism either.

The Christian author has a daunting task. Christian authors have to be more creative because they need to show anger without the four-letter words. We need to show love and lust without the sex. We need to show that our characters are not perfect without taking our readers where God never intends for them go to.

When editing, evaluate your manuscript with these questions in mind:

v  Does my realism reflect the realism of Christ’s love and His ability to transform?
v  Does the realism reflected in my work steer clear of anything that the Lord would not have a reader place into his mind?

Happy editing.

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

A disturbing trend has begun in the world of fiction. I have to admit that I do not read much secular work, so the novels in which I have noted this newest technique have all been in CBA.

Back story is something every writer hears about. We’re told not to drop it into the story in large chunks. We are taught to layer it into the story, use it to provide twists and turns to a great novel, and never, ever do we dare to slam our stories to a halt to jettison the poor reader back to the past.

I have spent years learning to craft back story that does not stop the forward motion of my novel. I work at layering in the details to surprise the reader. I do everything possible to keep from pouring a bunch of back story information onto the reader. I encourage all authors that I work with or teach to do the same. That’s why this new trend is so disturbing to me.

What is it that has me so bothered?

In several recent novels, I have come across large chunks of italicized text. Sometimes the entire chapter is italicized. It took only a second to realize what was happening. The author was being lazy, the editor was allowing such laziness, and the publisher, despite all of the advice to the contrary, went back on years of teaching and allowed the stories to come to an abrupt start and a drastic jump to the past. This new technique adds nothing to an author’s work, but it takes much away from the story.

In all instances, I refused to read the italicized text. I cringe at the over use of internal monologue, and I shuddered at pages and pages of italicized back story, as if the italics made the back story important enough to the story that it could be dumped upon the reader.
It did not. When I reached the end of each of the novels where this technique was employed, I found that I did not miss one bit of the back story.

That in and of itself is very telling to me.

I encourage authors to learn the art of back story. Edit your novels to incorporate what has been learned. Yes, back story is necessary, but the way it is presented can make a vast difference in the way the story is shown.

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 old photograph
A silver mine
A sailing ship   

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Recently, a friend asked me how an editor can tell that an author has found genuine “voice”?

That’s a deep and profound question.

I only wish I had a concrete answer.

The truth is, I cannot speak for all editors, because editing, like critique, or a reader's preference is subjective. This means that I come into the editing process predisposed to look at certain areas of the story. Many authors have heard it said that an editor can tell if the manuscript is right for them after the first five pages. Literary Agent, Noah Lukeman, wrote a book entitled: The First Five Pages in which he sets out those things that he looks for within the first five pages that tells him if the work is ready for publication. I can attest that his assessment is correct. In most cases, I can tell within the first five pages if I believe a work is ready. This has mainly to do with mechanics.

However, on a few occasions, an author’s voice has shined through to me in my review of submissions, and despite a lack of mechanics, I read a little further. If that voice continues to resonate with me, I continue deeper and deeper into the story. If that voice is like the Pied Pier for me, and I finish the story, I’m more than likely going to ask for a contract. I cannot give you a definition of “voice” or how I recognize it. I hear it when I read it. It’s like beautiful music. It catches me and carries me away. Still, though, the music that carries me away in a novel might sound to another editor like someone playing out of tune.

I have an unpublished friend. If someone asked me to pick out her novels from among the works of ten other authors, I’d be able to do so. I can hear her reading the story to me. She writes in deep point of view without narrative telling, but she is there, and her words are beautiful. I recently met another author whose stories resonated with me. His voice carried me away into his stories.

Author John Otte is another writer whose voice blows me away. I’d never met John prior to reading his book, but the voice he lends to first person in his Failstate novels captured me and tuned me into young adult fiction, which I now love to review and acquire for Pelican's Watershed imprint. Tracy Bowman and Jenness Walker caught my attention from the first page of their novel Bliss and made me laugh from that page until the very last page. If I could describe what captures me as a reader about these unique authors, I might possibly make a lot of money. Voice is one question all writers would like to define, but it's as hard to tie down as the wind.

The truth is, voice is subjective. What resonates with one editor or reader does not resonate with another. This is true in all arenas of writing…from the creation stage (what type of stories do you, the writer, like to write?), through critique (do all your critique partners always agree with you about the way your story is written?), submission (you have to find that editor who appreciates your voice), and even marketing (not every reader will like what you present). Different voices draw the attention of different people.

My suggestion for any author attempting to capture the magic of “voice” is to allow himself the freedom to roam among the pages. This does not in any way mean that a work of fiction should have an ounce of author intrusion. When an author puts a little of his heart into each character, I truly believe a unique voice will shine through.

Happy editing.

Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

True. Most publishers do not expect an author to know their formatting requirements. There are certain variables between publishers such as spaces between lines, font, and indentation, and these are not necessarily the responsibility of the author.

However, learning how to and implementing the following formatting rules will at least gain an author a smile from an editor.

v  One inch margins all around. This means up, down, and sideways. More specifically: top, bottom, left and right.
v  Headers that are 0.5” from the top.
v  Manuscripts should be double spaced
v  Font should be 12 pt and easy to read. An author is always safe with Times New Roman.
v  Eliminate all double spaces after end of sentence punctuation.
v  Eliminate all tabs. Use the automatic indent and set it at 0.5” unless told otherwise.
v  If unaware of the publisher’s preference, use a page break at the end of a chapter. Note: some publishers do prefer section breaks, however, this break can mess with some formatting. Use it only if you know it is your publisher’s preference.

In addition to the above, Pelican Book Group utilizes the following formats. While these are not required, and a manuscript would not be rejected for failure to implement these, editors are always grateful when such issues are resolved:

v  Four asterisk indicate a scene break. These should be centered. Note: use caution. When a return follows the asterisk, authors get that mysterious thick dotted line that is near impossible to remove from the manuscript once it has been saved. To remedy that line (before you save the document), press Ctrl Z immediately after the line appears, and the asterisk will return.
v  The chapters are entered numerically.
v  The chapter numbers should come four double spaces from the top of the page with one double space separating the chapter number from the beginning paragraph.

These simple format changes to a manuscript prior to submission, do provide a look of professionalism to the manuscript. With those in place, an editor can get right to the task of reviewing an author’s work.

Happy editing.

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.  

Morning Hair
A pinto horse
A pair of glasses