Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: editing

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Over my career I have literally edited thousands of works, most of them written by emerging writers. My greatest frustration always was (and still is) when I couldn’t even GET to critiquing the deeper story elements because I was too distracted by these all too common oopses.

Good editors are NOT cheap. There are also many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses you could’ve easily repaired yourself? You’re burning cash and time. Yet, correct these problems, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of your novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

#1 The Brutal Truth about Adverbs, Metaphors and Similes

I have never met an adverb, simile, or metaphor I didn’t LOVE. I totally dig description, but it can present problems.

First of all, adverbs are not ALL evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly? Really? O_o Ah, but if they whisper seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t already implied by the verb.

Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones. Kill them. Dead.

Metaphors and similes are awesome, but need to be used sparingly. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using 42 metaphors in 5 pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

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When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called “purple prose.” This glitter, while sparkly, can pull the reader out of the story or even confuse the reader. A while back, I edited a winner’s 20 page entry. The story began on a whitewater river and the rafters were careening toward a “rock coffee table.”

Huh?

Oh, the boulder is squarish shaped!

Thing is, the metaphor made me stop to figure out what image the author was trying to create. If the rafters had merely been careening toward a giant flat rock? Not as pretty but I could have remained in the story without trying to figure out how the hell furniture ended up in the river.

I’ve read some great books, but as an editor, I might have cut some of the metaphors. Why? Because the author might have a metaphor SO GOOD I wanted to highlight it and commit it to memory…but it was bogged down by the other four metaphors and three similes on the same page. The other metaphors/similes added nothing…unless one counts distraction.

Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes. Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST. Look for confusing metaphors, like rock furniture in the middle of a river.

#2 Stage Direction

She reached out her arm to open the door.

Okay, unless she has mind powers and telekinesis, do we need the direction?

He turned to go down the next street.

He picked up the oars and pulled a few more strokes, eager to get to his favorite fishing spot.

We “get” he’d have to pick up the oars to row his boat, or that is a seriously cool trick.

Be active. Characters can “brush hair out of their face” “open doors” and even slap people without you telling us they reached out an arm or hand to do this. We are smart. Really.

#3 Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts…

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

 His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.”

Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow? The carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

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#4 Too Much Physiology…

Her heart pounded. Her heart hammered. Her pulse beat in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs.

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out.  That and I read a lot of entries where the character has her heart hammering so much, I am waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment. Ease up on the physiology. Less is often more.

Get a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We assume until they are out of danger it’s still pounding. No need to remind us.

Really.

#5 Backing Into the Sentence/Passive Voice

In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many writers will craft sentences like this:

With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.

Problem? Passive action. When we use the word “down” then “on” is redundant. Either she is ironing or not ironing. “Started” is overused and makes sloppy writing. That actually goes back to the whole “stage direction” thing.

Active:

Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.

The door was kicked in by the police.

Police kicked in the door.

If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.

#6 Almost ALWAYS Use “Said” as a Tag

“You are such a jerk,” she laughed.

A character can’t “laugh” something. They can’t “spit” “snarl” “grouse” words. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said used properly becomes white noise.

NOTE: Use said as a tag…just don’t get crazy. If you beat it up it gets distracting and annoying.

But again, used properly readers don’t generally “see” it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.

“You are such a jerk.” She laughed as she flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.

Notice how sentences like the one above also keep us from beating said to death.

I swear the funniest instance of bizarre tags was a new writer who just would NOT listen to me and she insisted on using all these crazy@$$ tags. So instead of exclaimed when her character yelled something she tagged with, he ejaculated.

*Editor Kristen falls over laughing*

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Okay y’all ALL sniggered at that one. So yeah be creative just not in the tags, ya dig? 😉

There you go, SIX easy tips for self-editing. We all make these mistakes and that’s why God invented revision (that and to punish the unfaithful). If you can get rid of these common offenders on your own, then good editors can focus on the deeper aspects of your fiction.

Have you had to ruthlessly slay your favorite metaphors? Are you a recovering adverb-addict? What are some other self-editing guidelines you use to keep your prose clean and effective?

I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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Blogging for Authors February 3rd, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

Plotting for Dummies February 17th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character February 24th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on

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Whether you are new to writing or an old pro, brushing up on the basics is always helpful. Because no matter how GOOD the story is? If the reader is busy stumbling over this stuff, it ruins the fictive dream and she will never GET to the story. So today we are going to cover six ways to self-edit your fiction. Though this stuff might seem like a no-brainer, I see these blunders ALL the time.

….unfortunately even in (legacy) published books.

When I worked as an editor, I found it frustrating when I couldn’t even GET to the story because I was too distracted by these all too common oopses.

There are many editors who charge by the hour. If they’re spending their time fixing oopses you could’ve easily repaired yourself? You’re burning cash and time. Yet, correct these problems, and editors can more easily get to the MEAT of your novel. This means you will spend less money and get far higher value.

#1 The Brutal Truth about Adverbs, Metaphors and Similes

I have never met an adverb, simile, or metaphor I didn’t LOVE. I totally dig description, but it can present problems.

First of all, adverbs are not ALL evil. Redundant adverbs are evil. If someone shouts loudly? How else are they going to shout? Whispering quietly? Really? O_o Ah, but if they whisper seductively? The adverb seductively gives us a quality to the whisper that isn’t already implied by the verb.

Check your work for adverbs and kill the redundant ones. Kill them. Dead.

Metaphors and similes are awesome, but need to be used sparingly. Yes, in school, our teachers or professors didn’t ding us for using 42 metaphors in 5 pages, but their job was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor or simile, NOT prepare us for commercial publication as professional novelists.

When we use too much of this verbal glitter, we can create what’s called “purple prose.” This glitter, while sparkly, can pull the reader out of the story or even confuse the reader. A while back, I edited a winner’s 20 page entry. The story began on a whitewater river and the rafters were careening toward a “rock coffee table.”

Huh?

Oh, the boulder is squarish shaped!

Thing is, the metaphor made me stop to figure out what image the author was trying to create. If the rafters had merely been careening toward a giant flat rock? Not as pretty but I could have remained in the story without trying to figure out how the hell furniture ended up in the river.

I’ve read some great books, but as an editor, I might have cut some of the metaphors. Why? Because the author might have a metaphor SO GOOD I wanted to highlight it and commit it to memory…but it was bogged down by the other four metaphors and three similes on the same page. The other metaphors/similes added nothing…unless one counts distraction.

Go through your pages and highlight metaphors and similes. Pick THE BEST and CUT THE REST. Look for confusing metaphors, like rock furniture in the middle of a river.

#2 Stage Direction

She reached out her arm to open the door.

Okay, unless she has mind powers and telekinesis, do we need the direction?

He turned to go down the next street.

He picked up the oars and pulled a few more strokes, eager to get to his favorite fishing spot.

We “get” he’d have to pick up the oars to row his boat, or that is a seriously cool trick.

Be active. Characters can “brush hair out of their face” “open doors” and even slap people without you telling us they reached out an arm or hand to do this. We are smart. Really.

#3 Painful and Alien Movement of Body Parts…

Her eyes flew to the other end of the restaurant.

 His head followed her across the room.

All I have to say is… “Ouch.”

Make sure your character keeps all body parts attached. Her gaze can follow a person and so can her stare, but if her eyes follow? The carpet gets them fuzzy with dust bunnies and then they don’t slide back in her sockets as easily.

#4 Too Much Physiology…

Her heart pounded. Her heart hammered. Her pulse beat in her head. Her breath came in choking sobs.

After a page of this? I need a nap. After two pages? I need a drink. We can only take so much heart pounding, thrumming, hammering before we just get worn out.  That and I read a lot of entries where the character has her heart hammering so much, I am waiting for her to slip into cardiac arrest at any moment. Ease up on the physiology. Less is often more.

Get a copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus to help you vary physiology. Also, if someone’s heart is pounding, that’s okay. We assume until they are out of danger it’s still pounding. No need to remind us.

Really.

#5 Backing Into the Sentence/Passive Voice

In an effort to break up and vary sentence structure, many writers will craft sentences like this:

With the months of stress pressing down on her head, Jessie started ironing the restaurant tablecloths with a fury.

Problem? Passive action. When we use the word “down” then “on” is redundant. Either she is ironing or not ironing. “Started” is overused and makes sloppy writing. That actually goes back to the whole “stage direction” thing.

Active:

Jessie ironed the restaurant tablecloths with a fury, months of stress pressing on her shoulders.

The door was kicked in by the police.

Police kicked in the door.

If you go through your pages and see WAS clusters? That’s a HUGE hint that passive voice has infected your story.

#6 Almost ALWAYS Use “Said” as a Tag

“You are such a jerk,” she laughed.

A character can’t “laugh” something. They can’t “snip” “spit” “snarl” “grouse” words. They can SAY and ever so often they can ASK. Said becomes white noise. Readers don’t “see” it. It keeps them in the story and cooking along. If we want to add things like laughing, griping, complaining, then fine. It just shouldn’t be the tag.

“You are such a jerk.” She laughed as she flicked brownie batter onto Fabio’s white shirt.

There you go, SIX easy tips for self-editing. We all make these mistakes and that’s why God invented revision (that and to punish the unfaithful). If you can get rid of these common offenders on your own, then good editors can focus on the deeper aspects of your fiction.

Have you had to ruthlessly slay your favorite metaphors? Are you a recovering adverb-addict? What are some other self-editing guidelines you use to keep your prose clean and effective?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Kristen's New Author Pic
Kristen’s New Author Pic

It’s my FAVORITE time of the year. I SO LOVE HALLOWEEN. It is the best of all the holidays because it is the only holiday where hanging out with family and cleaning my house are optional. There’s also candy and costumes.

This year I am going as Maleficent. Still working on my costume, and since I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, I actually had a spare Alice in Wonderland costume.

#ThingsOnlyWritersAndPornStarsSay

So of course I had to put THAT to use. And, you are welcome!

Yes, I filmed myself as Alice in Wonderland in the only room in the house with lighting that didn’t make me look like Alice in Wonder-When-Botox-Will-Go-On-Sale Land. But, hey, we are all here to have FUN!

Anyway, whether we Nano or not, I want to offer you a lesson about writing a novel. Probably the BEST lesson. Editing is necessary and awesome. In fact, there are a lot of books published that could have used it…a LOT of it. But, like Botox, it can be overdone and ruin something that could have been beautiful.

Editing can and WILL kill your WIP. It WILL tank progress and, if you allow it, it WILL derail you and keep you from finishing Nano. In fact, I think perfecting and editing kill more novels than “writer’s block” ever did. We futz and fuss and fret the magic right out of the work until it dies a lonely death in a forgotten digital file on a forgotten laptop.

But how can we NOT edit? How can ignoring editing make our work better? Kristen, are you mad? What’s next? Cats and dogs living together? 

It can. Trust me. Better yet. I’m an editor, so I will show and not tell.

I dig parables, so I have a good one for you.

I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

Code for : Killing Stuff

Almost seven years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic.

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Normally, oleander this size were about $150 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.

Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.

The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.

Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.

Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?

I….LIVE….AGAIN!
I….LIVE….AGAIN!

My last remaining oleander. *sniffles*

To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?

This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage.

Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.

Tips to Avoid Premature Editing

Fast Draft (Kinda Like Nano on Steroids)

Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft and I use it to this day. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death.

In the mystery I just sent off to an agent, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I was. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.

The killer I’d “plotted” was actually a red herring. My subconscious actually had come up with a twist even I didn’t consciously see. Had I gone back and “fixed” things? I would have edited out the best twist in my book.

Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.

Limited Edit

Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.

I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.

In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the superfluous adverbs later ;).

Make Notes

If you are tempted to edit, instead, just make a note of it in a different color and keep going. For instance, maybe your protagonist didn’t have a sister when you started the book, then suddenly she does. You are tempted to edit this new character out. Instead of doing that, just make a note of it and riff with it. Your muse could be doing you a solid.

Writers often whine that they wish the muse would visit, but then when she does, they undo all her magic with edits. Let her help!

Remember that Nanowrimo is NOT about 50,000 perfect words so it is okay if there is a false trail in there. But if there IS, then you at least have some breadcrumbs to get you back on track and you haven’t wasted precious time polishing something that didn’t work OR unraveling something seriously cool your muse was gifting to you when you were refilling your vodka coffee ;).

Again, if you LOVE editing and you have finished 20 novels and bathe regularly in $50 bills, keep doing it. I am ALL about writers finding what works for them. There IS no One-Size-Fits-All.

But, if you’ve had a hard time finishing or you do get stuck, it doesn’t hurt to give this a try. I argued with pros who told me to stop editing my stuff for YEARS and I was stubborn as a goat (note the pic of me with the horns above—this is before I put ON my Maleficent costume 😉 ). In all honesty, I really wish I hadn’t been such a stubborn pain in the @$$.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Image via CellarDoorFilms W.A.N.A. Commons

When I used to edit for a living, I earned the moniker The Death Star because I can be a tad ruthless with prose. Today I hope to teach you guys to be a bit ruthless as well. Before we get started, I do have a quick favor to ask. Some of you may know that I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so I’ve taken on our dojo’s blog to see if we can try out new and fun content and am using the moniker Dojo Diva.

I posted about how hard it is to begin and the fears that can ever keep us from starting. The way others try to stop us from doing anything remarkable. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories, so I hope you will stop by and get the discussion going.

Click the word “Comments” and a box should appear. This is new, so working out the kinks. If you don’t appear, I may just need to approve you.

To prime the pump, so to speak, anyone who comments on the new blog will be drawn for a separate contest to win 20 pages of Death Star Treatment (rigorous edit from ME). This means a lot higher chances of winning. Also, the first ten commenters get double entries.

Been bragging about you guys, so I really hope to see you there!

Moving on…

Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.

Drift=Bad juju

I’ve edited countless books, many from new authors. I see a lot of the same errors, and this is to give you a basic guide of what to look for in your writing. Be your own Death Star. Blast away this weak writing so that once you do hire an editor, it won’t cost nearly as much because the editor won’t spend precious time (charged often by the hour) to note or remove these basic offenses.

I love doing my 20-page contest, namely because I act as an intermediary. When I run across excellent writing I do try to connect it with an agent who might be interested (with the author’s permission, of course). Yet, many of the samples I get are infested with these basic oopses that tell me the writer is not yet ready.

So I hope you can use these tips as a guide to reveal the pearl that is your story.

Tip #1—Use Other Senses. BTW, Sight is the Weakest

A lot of writers (new ones especially) rely on a lot of description regarding what a character sees, and while this isn’t, per se, wrong it can be overdone. Also, of all the senses, sight is one of the weakest, thus it lacks the power to pull your reader into deep POV (point of view).

***Just know I am riffing off these examples. Some people love detail, others love minimalism so I am not doing anything other than providing quick illustrations. Ultimately, tailor these suggestions to your particular voice.

Smells are very powerful. In fact, it is the most powerful of ALL the senses.

Jane stopped short. She stared at the blackened walls and peeling paint that testified to the fire that took twenty young lives.

Okay, pretty good. But maybe try this.

Jane stopped short. The sickening sweet of cooked flesh stole her breath. It was all that remained of twenty young lives extinguished in flames.

Taste is also very powerful.

Fifi tucked and rolled as she dove out of her captor’s van. The ground came up hard, harder than she expected.

Not bad, but maybe try…

Fifi’s face met the ground, hard. At first, all she noticed was the bitterness of grass mixed with sand that crunched against her teeth. A moment later? The taste of old copper pennies gushed into her mouth, making her gag. Blood.

Try to use a combination of all of the senses to close the psychic distance. To rely solely on what a character sees will keep the reader at a distance. It will make her a mere observer and not a participant. Also, y’all might have noticed novels are pretty long so adding in other senses will broaden your emotional palette.

Tip #2 Don’t Coach the Reader

When we are new, we tend to think through stage direction, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean it should end up on the page. Readers aren’t dumb, so we don’t need all the details.

He raised his hand and struck her across the cheek.

Um, duh. We know he raised his hand to strike her. Otherwise, that would be a serious trick. Jedi mind powers, maybe?

He struck her across the cheek. Hard. Stars exploded in her vision.

We don’t need the character to step up on the curb or reach for the door handle. If a character makes it from one room to another, we fill in the missing (and boring) details. We also don’t need cues for emotion.

Tip #3 Don’t State the Obvious

She slammed the door and cursed in anger.

Unless this character has spacial issues and Tourette’s? We know she’s angry. We don’t “need” the “in anger” part. We’re sharp. We get it. Really.

Tip #4 Can We Have a Name, Please?

This can happen a lot when the writer is using first-person. We go two, three or ten pages and still don’t know the main character’s NAME.

Tip #5 Don’t Introduce Too Many Characters Too Quickly

This is the opposite of the last problem—too many names. I can’t tell you how many writing samples I’ve received that make this mistake. If you have ten named characters by page one? I’m done. In life, we can’t keep up with that many names all at once, and when reading, that doesn’t change.

Too many names will confuse us and muddle who the protagonist is. We get lost, so we’re frustrated and we put the book down…or toss it across the room.

Tip #6 Limit Naming Too Much Anything at Once

This can happen in science fiction and fantasy because we are world-building. Just remember that if we name characters, places, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, creatures, ships, robots etc. it can overwhelm the reader. Stories are about people and if the people get lost because of the world-building, that is problematic.

Jezebel gripped the Kum-Rah in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped just short of the Uf-Tah’s altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another Fluff-Tun.

I’m being a tad silly here, but maybe try something like…

Jezebel gripped her sword in her bleeding hands. Panting, she stopped short of the ornate altar. Tomorrow the Gil-Had would sacrifice another member of her family.

We still get some world-building without our heads exploding trying to keep up with names and figure out who is who and what is what. Later, as the story progresses, we can learn that the bad guys are the Uf-Tah, the henchmen are the Gil-Had and the victims are the Fluff-Tah. We can eventually learn the names of particular weapons.

Tip #7 Give Us an “Idea” of Who a Character Is and What He/She Looks Like

Don’t feel the need to bog us down too much, but by page one, we should know at least some basics about a character. Few things get weirder than reading about a character for five or ten pages and then realizing they are another race or gender.

Whaaaa??? He’s a black dude?

Tip #8 Strive to Give Us a Sense of Time and Place

Again, a few details are helpful to orient us where we are. Whether it is the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers, we need to get grounded quickly to become part of the world and fall into that fictive dream.

Tip #9 No Secret Agents

We are introduced to who we assume is the protagonist. Unless something cues us otherwise, we assume he/she is alone. When another character suddenly starts talking?

Jarring.

Also, tell us who this person is in relation to the character. Yes, you (the writer) know who this character is, but we don’t.

Gertrude awoke with a start. Her alarm clock hadn’t gone off, and panic gripped her. This was her first day at the new job, and being late could get her fired before she even started. She nearly fell as she scrambled out of the bed sheets and bolted for the coffee maker.

“I thought you’d be gone by now,” Ted said as he watered his Bonsai trees.

“Me, too. Hey, why didn’t you come wake me up?”

Okay, who is Ted? Brother? Husband? Boyfriend? Friendly home invader? We need to know. Maybe not right away but at least on the same page or pretty close to it.

I see this all the time. A name, some dialogue but no introduction, so no sense of who that character is. We are book-readers not mind-readers.

Tip #10 Tighten the Prose

The biggest red flag to me as an editor is an infestation of the word “was.” This is a major indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one? Fairly safe to assume the trend will continue.

Do a Was Hunt. See too many of those buggers together? Time to kill.

It was barely dawn and Lulu was sitting on the couch. She was waiting for her father who was already hours late. This was unusual for him. He was always punctual. A crack that was deafening made her scream and moments later the door was kicked in by the police who barked orders for her to get down on the floor.

Instead….

Predawn light spilled into the room where Lulu sat, waiting for her father to be home. He was never late. Ever. A deafening crack made her scream. Police kicked in the door and ordered her to the floor.

There are a lot of other ways to tighten the writing, but these are common offenders and a great start. We all do this no matter how many books we write. It’s why we need revision. We can spot this stuff and clean it up and make it presentable for the public.

What are some of your pet peeves? What loses you as a reader? Do these tips help? Do you see maybe some of your own bad habits? Btw, I did ALL of these at one time, so we are all friends 😀 .

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form 😀 .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

After six years in critique her novel was “perfect.”

Critique groups can be wonderful. They can offer accountability, professionalism, and take our writing to an entirely new level. But, like most, things, critique groups also have a dark side. They can become a crutch that prevents genuine growth. Depending on the problems, critique groups can create bad writing habits and even deform a WIP so badly it will lose any chance at resonating with readers, thus being successful.

The key to avoiding problems is to be educated. Not all critique groups are worth our time. Some critique groups might have limitations that can be mitigated with a simple adjustment in our approach.

Traditional Critique Groups

Many of you have attended a traditional critique group. This is the “read a handful of printed pages or read so many pages aloud” groups. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose.

When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for commercial publication.

In a good traditional critique group we learn that POV does not mean “Prisoners of Vietnam.” We learn to spot passive voice and “was clusters” and why modifiers aren’t always extra-nifty. We will hopefully learn self-discipline in that we need to attend regularly and contribute. We can also forge friendships and a support network.

So where’s the problem?

Traditional critique groups lack perspective.

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Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see structural flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults. In fact, I would venture to say that most writers are not rejected due to prose, but rather, they meet the slush pile because of tragic errors in structure.

Traditional critique groups can tell us nothing about turning points or whether a scene fits properly. They lack the context to be able to discern if our hero has progressed sufficiently along his character arc by the mid-point of Act 2. They have zero ability to properly critique pacing, since pacing can only be judged in larger context. So, my advice is to get a beta reader that you trust. Critique groups cannot do what only beta readers can.

***A beta reader is a regular person who likes to read our genre and will tell us about the story from a reader’s perspective.

Traditional critique groups can also hurt us in the following ways.

Traditional groups can get us in a habit of over-explaining.

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As we just mentioned,  those in a traditional critique group sitting around the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Fifi end up in Costco wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.”

Well, duh, of course they’re lost.

They’ve missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Our job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections our critique groups can follow.

Traditional critique groups are notorious for the Book-by-Committee.

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Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a Book-by-Committee, also known as Franken-novel.

One great way to know good advice is to READ craft books. Hooked by Les Edgerton, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell are a great start. In fact, ANYTHING written by Edgerton or James Scott Bell, just buy it and read it. You can thank me later 😉 .

That way, when someone offers suggestions, you will know whether or not that advice is supported by leading teachers in the industry.

They can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half
Image via Hyperbole and a Half

The world does not reward perfect novels, it rewards finished novels. I still run into writers who have been working on “perfecting” the same novel for the past ten years. As professionals, we need to learn to LET GO. Either the project was a learning curve and it needs to be scrapped and parted out, or it needs to be handed a lunch box and sent off to play with the big novels via query or publication.

Scrap it, part it, shop it or ship it but MOVE ON.

Yes, I know NY publishes novels that have typos and grammar errors. But when writers are under contract, they don’t have 6-10 years to ensure that their manuscript doesn’t have a single misplaced comma. In fact, I would be so bold as to posit that readers don’t generally get to the end of a novel and declare, “Wow! That was riveting. Not one single dangling participle in the entire book!”

There are writers I know who have been working on the same book for four, five, even SIX years. I see them at conferences dying to land an agent and get that three-book deal. WHY? New York isn’t going to give them another 12-18 YEARS to turn in manuscripts. The hard reality is that, if we hope to make a living at this writing thing, we need to learn to write solid and we need to learn to finish…quickly.

Traditional critique groups can offer a false sense of security.

Can get you in trouble...
Can get you in trouble…

We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many successfully published authors has the group produced?

How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond that group for additional critique.

We must make sure our work is being reviewed by people who will be honest about any problems. Meeting once a week to sing kumbayah is not the best preparation for this brutal career. Once our book is for sale, we are open to the big bad real world of people with nothing better to do than skewer us publicly on-line in a blistering review.

You will know them by their fruits…

If your goal is to write great novels, make sure any group you join is producing successful novelists. I spent way too many years in a critique group that produced all kinds of articles and NF, but no one had published a successful novel. Then I wondered why the critique was…eh.

When I left that group for the DFW Writers Workshop, my world tilted on its axis because DFWWW is AWESOME and is known for producing professionals in all genres. In fact, I wouldn’t be here without them. I also STRONGLY recommend joining RWA (Romance Writers of America) and find an RWA chapter nearby even if you don’t write romance.

RWA is by FAR the most professional group of authors any of us can connect with. They are at the leading edge of the industry and these folks will totally send in the flying monkeys if you don’t get back to writing. 

By the way, if you want to get more out of your critique group, I have a class this Saturday (details below) that can make sure your larger structure is sound. This class can do what your critique group can’t and it will help you spend your time more wisely.

So what do you guys think? Have you had problems? Does your critique group seem to only run you in circles? Have you fallen for the perfectionism thing? Or am I off-base? What are your solutions? Ideas?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form 😀 .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook