);

Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: grammar

Editor, editors, writing, publishing
Actually, it’s you. Love, the Editor.

Harsh, I know. Alas, sometimes tough love is necessary for the greater good. Cait Reynolds here today, and what I’m about to reveal is the secret heart’s cry of pretty much every freelance editor (at least the ones that don’t just run manuscripts through Grammarly).

Having worked as a freelance editor for many years, I’ve seen it all from the articulate and amazing, to the works of pure WTH?

I’ve also been given ARCs of books that are ‘professionally edited,’ but are appallingly full of typos, grammatical errors, and trite characters and plots.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

I’m not necessarily blaming the editors in these cases. I get it. Sometimes, a work is simply so awful that we would have to completely rewrite it just to get it into passable shape. And, for a fraction of a penny per word, it isn’t worth it.

While there are definitely things editors can do to start helping to correct and cure this epidemic of literary mediocrity, there are things that writers need to do as well. That’s what I’m going to focus on today.

An editor hates…

1. When writers think they don’t have to do at least one or two rounds of their own editing before sending us a manuscript.

I’m not just talking about proofreading for commas (though, that’s another thing coming up). Everyone is in such a rush these days to get their work up on Amazon as fast as they can. So many authors finish up a “manuscript,” hit save, and then email it to their editor without a second thought….or a second look.

Let me throw out this hypothetical situation. Say we were sending this manuscript to an editor at Harper Collins or Penguin. Would we hit save and then send it off without combing through every line?

Or, would we let the manuscript sit for a week or two, giving our brain time and distance so we can go back at it with fresh eyes? Would we read through it critically, looking for (and correcting!) everything from typos and inconsistencies to doughy dialogue and plot holes? Would we repeat this process at least once if not twice more?

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

We probably would because we know the editor is probably hard-to-please with extremely high expectations about the degree of polish in any work they receive.

So why is sending a manuscript to a freelance editor any different? It shouldn’t be.

Freelance editors aren’t entirely innocent in this, either. We take on work instead of asking for a sample to see what the manuscript is like and then refusing to work on it until the author has gone back and cleaned it up. But, Amazon KDP has both exacerbated and preyed on authors’ fear of rejection to create a murky industry that cycles off of accepting mediocrity as a norm.

I digress.

2. When authors shop around for the cheapest editing services instead of the best editing services.

Editing is one of those things in life where we really do get what we pay for.

Professional freelance editors with experience and training beyond “I love reading,” and “I’m a writer, too,” are pretty rare commodities these days. If we are lucky enough to be taken on by one of these editorial unicorns, we should expect to pay the going rate for unicorns.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

Many authors don’t want to go that route because it would mean having to save up money and probably publish fewer books. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because not every idea will make a good book.

Also, like cheese, wine, and wisdom, good ideas and stories need time to mature. We need time to noodle and daydream, to experience those moments of sudden inspiration while doing the dishes or walking the dog.

Instead, far too many authors slap down 60,000 words for whatever idea pops into their heads and then rush on to the next idea. Because if we’re not putting out three books a month, we’re gonna get tossed off the KDP Hamster Wheel of Death.

Producing books in volume means paying for production with an eye to getting volume-discounted services.

The average going rate for editors who provide services to these authors is about $240 for two rounds of editing on a 60,000-word manuscript.

Let’s say that an average editing effort takes 20 hours. That’s $12/hr (before self-employment taxes). It’s only our aversion to fryolators that keeps us from going to work at McDonald’s.

I’m not even going to talk about how authors will pay $500-$800 for a custom cover design but want that $200 editing job to cover concept editing, line editing, and proofreading. It’s enough to turn an editor into a jumper. Or cover designer because screw this $h!t.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

An editor gets stabby when…

3. All an author does is accept track changes and sends the manuscript back for round two.

Yes, I have received manuscripts back like this. It’s like the author just ignored all conceptual, content, and craft comments I painstakingly made. This is frustrating because it makes editing incredibly tedious. More than that, it’s disheartening.

When a writer ignores editorial guidance, he or she is also turning down the opportunity to become better at the craft of writing. A good editor doesn’t just catch typos and minor inconsistencies. A skilled editor can identify a writer’s strengths and weaknesses and teach the writer to enhance the first and correct the second.

I’m not sure why writers are so often dismissive of editorial suggestions. Is it because they are in such a rush to get the book out (I see you, KDP Hamster Wheel of Death) that they simply don’t have the time to do a proper editing job?

Or, could it be that they don’t want to take on the daunting task of tearing apart a completed manuscript and painstakingly reworking and rewriting it? Maybe it’s because they’re afraid that trying to improve their writing would imply they’re not that good to start with and probably would never be able to get a traditional publishing contract.

Ignoring editorial guidance is also disrespectful. Let’s go back to that Harper Collins example. How inclined would we be to ignore an editor from Harper Collins who returned our manuscript with suggestions for not only reworking a good third of the book to tighten the plot, but also for learning to be more succinct yet vivid with our descriptions (meaning we need to go page-by-page on our own and make changes)?

So, why ignore guidance and suggestions just because an editor is freelance?

4. There are stupid grammar and usage mistakes in a manuscript.

Seriously. While I get that there are some fine points with grammar that we all fumble with from time-to-time, there is absolutely NO excuse for using the wrong word or using a word incorrectly.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

Words are a writer’s business, like medicine is a doctor’s business. How much would we trust a doctor who glanced at a fractured tibia and said, “Uh, seems like you broke your leg thingy.”

How about a list of cringe-inducing usage mistakes I see every single day in manuscripts and self-published books?

  • Conscious/conscience
  • Weary/wary
  • Disdain/distain
  • Wondering/wandering
  • Past time/pastime
  • Shuttered/shuddered
  • Chocked/choked
  • Peak/pique/peek
  • Lossed (not even a word)/lost
  • Passed/past
  • Lead/led

Are some of these typos or bleary brain slip-ups? Maybe, but frankly, these should be caught and corrected long before an editor ever sees the manuscript. However, when the wrong word is used consistently, that tells me the writer doesn’t actually know the meaning.

Even worse, when I see incorrect usage that has made it into the final book, I’m ninety-nine percent sure the editor doesn’t know what he or she is doing…or committed seppuku halfway through the editing process.

In terms of grammar, I get that we all have different levels of training. However, just like we don’t want a broken-leg-thingy doctor, I don’t want to see writers who don’t know and don’t bother to learn the most basic rules of language.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

Personally, I like the Oxford English Dictionaries’ online grammar reference.

And finally, an editor really, really hates…

 5. When we can tell all a writer really wants is the look-at-me-I-published-a-book participation trophy.

The National Association of Recovering Freelancers* put out a study that said four out of five freelance editors suffer a nervous breakdown due to the near-lethal combination of shoddy writing, shoddier story conceptualization and development, and repeated exposure to bad grammar.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

*I totally made up the National Association of Recovering Freelancers, but now that I think of it, I really like the acronym, N.A.R.F. Very ‘Pinky and the Brain.’

What drives freelance editors to give it all up? Why do they consider it more productive to search Pinterest compulsively for DIY seashell crafting than to edit a manuscript?

Part of it is the money. It’s also the soul-dulling tedium of slogging through clunky prose, bad grammar, and tired tropes (at $0.004 to $0.006 per word). Most of all, it’s nihilistic realization that so many writers care more about seeing their name on Amazon than whether their readers are getting the best possible story they could write.

Without the Amazon KDP platform, almost none of these writers would ever stand a chance with literary agents and traditional publishers. While the pre-KDP era was far from perfect, repeated rejection had one MAJOR benefit: either the writing got better, or it was never inflicted on the unsuspecting public.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

It was the publishing industry’s equivalent of telling the broken-leg-thingy doctor to either go back to school or consider a different career like professional Zamboni driving.

See? Not all gatekeeping is a bad thing. But, freelance editors now have all the work and none of the power, and the reading public is the worse for it.

Harsh but hopeful?

The fact that you are here and reading this blog gives me hope. It means you actually care about becoming a better storyteller and craftsman. It isn’t that freelance editors want to see perfection right off the bat. We merely long to see progress.

Freelance editors do this because we love the written word. We are unflaggingly idealistic, optimistic, and altruistic…until we’re not.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

If you or someone you love is a freelance editor who is showing signs of stress (common signs and symptoms include wild-eyed staring at the screen, increased consumption of alcohol/caffeine, and muttering, “Alas, poor literature, we hardly knew ye!”), N.A.R.F. recommends the following treatment options:

  • Vitamin D. Take your freelance editor outside and reassure them that the light will not actually burn;
  • Laugh therapy. Expose your freelance editor to a minimum of three minutes of cat videos twice a day;
  • Calm panic attacks. Repeating “All is right with Strunk and White,” in a low, soothing voice will help ease anxiety;
  • Homeopathic literature. Provide your freelance editor with Pulitzer Prize- or Mann Booker Prize-winning books. A selection of classic literature will also work in an emergency;
  • Career development. Gently suggest that your freelance editor consider a different career…

Perhaps something in cover design?

I love hearing from you!

What do you WIN? For the month of JUNE, for 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).

Upcoming Classes!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, June 22, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Remember Moonlighting? Dave and Maddie were the hottest thing ever…and then they kissed…and it was still kinda hot…and then they really got together and settled down to blissful domesticated bickering. And…we all stopped watching.

Because it was boring.

Remember the X-Files? The lucullan feast of smoldering restraint that was Mulder and Scully? Chris Carter refused to give the fans what they wanted with a kiss at the series end, and while fans gnashed their teeth, it was a kind of pro forma gnashing because we were still interested and could still dream about what might happen.

While the episode-based storytelling of television allows romance to be the B-plot (and only when it feels like it), novels are different. Whether we are writing squeaky clean romance or too-much-wasabi-level-hot erotica, we are always dealing with the same basic principle of THE TEASE.

And for all that romance gets a bad rap and is scorned as being ‘easy’ to write, sustaining the delicious, rippling tension and fizzing chemistry between characters is one of the hardest techniques to master. This class can help you (literally) keep the romance alive well past the 80,000-word mark and beyond!

Topics covered in this class include:

  • ‘So, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want’: recognizing what the reader wants, what the reader really wants but doesn’t know, and what the reader needs;
  • How to Flirt with the Reader: giving an inch but taking a mile when it comes to sweet/romantic/sexy moments;
  • Clean and Mean: putting the spark in sweet romance and fanning the flame without risking the brimstone;
  • Down and Dirty: putting the emotion in erotica so every encounter leaves the reader panting for more…for more than one reason;
  • The Speed Dating Trap: how to balance interest, interaction, and attraction without falling for the trap of insta-love (just add fate/pheromones/booze);
  • Making it Last: how to chart a course for romance and pace it so it lasts…all book long…
  • So much more!…

A free recording of the class is included in the purchase. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER


Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Saturday, June 23, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. EST

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

There’s something dashingly defiant and alluring about a proper young lady who throws caution (and often her petticoats) to the wind and picks up a sword to fight for what she believes in.

Whether it’s Eowyn from Lord of the Rings or Elizabeth (Badass) Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we all love that moment when a woman rises up to prove she’s more than society ever expected her to be.

Yet the market today is flooded with fantasy and historical that carry more trope baggage than Marie Antoinette for a long weekend at the Petit Trianon (sheep not included).

In fantasy, there are girls raised in servitude who suddenly discover their magical powers and royal heritage and must (really quickly) learn to wield swords and spells in order to save the kingdom.

Historical often isn’t much better, taking naive nineteen year-olds and turning them into near-legendary brigands, highwaymen, and pirates within the space of a few months.

Lack of believability, lack of character depth and arc, and lack of world-building/historical knowledge are the three major pitfalls when creating Ye Olde Action Heroine.

Luckily, this class will give writers a map with all literary here-be-hippogriffs clearly marked. Whether your gal is besieged by dragons, in a castle under siege, or in a castle under siege by dragons, this class can help!

This class will cover:

  • En Garde! Choosing her weapons wisely;
  • Ye Olde Fight Club: getting real about time & training;
  • Why, How, and When: how to realistically get her on the path from baking to badassery;
  • Hard Knocks: how to use failure and lack of skill mastery to create compelling character arcs;
  • The Joan of Arc trap: how to avoid creating miracles and martyrs (unless you really mean it);
  • The Pirate Bride: defining femininity in fantasy and historical in order ‘rebel’ against it;
  • Consequences: what are the short- and long-term consequences of flouting convention?
  • World Building & Re-Building: getting fantasy and historical settings right for your characters;
  • And so much more…

A recording of this class is also included with purchase. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER


Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Saturday, June 23, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. EST

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Female characters have evolved from ‘damsel in distress’ to the ‘hardcore badass.’ Problem is, fictional females escaped one boring mold only to end up in another even MORE boring mold.

But with lipgloss AND karate!

Strong female characters fascinate audiences on the page and on the screen. From Atomic Blonde to Wonder Woman, Special Agent Scully to Dr. Laura Isles, women can exude power and danger in a variety of ways.

Sadly, the badass female has devolved into a tired trope with the depth of a puddle.

This class is to challenge the concept of the dangerous woman as protagonist and antagonist. Creating a powerful woman involves more than handing her weapons, a black belt, and a terminal case of RBF (Resting B$#@% Face).

    • Expanding ‘who’ the dangerous woman IS;
    • Still waters run DEEP;
    • Broadening backstory;
    • Motives matter;
    • The ‘Tomb Raider’ effect;
    • Combat, weapons, tactics;
    • Expanding her ‘arsenal’;
    • Generating authentic dramatic action/tension;
    • Making the dangerous dame ‘likable’;
    • AND MORE…

As an author, competitive shooter, and former combatives instructor, there are few characters I LOVE more than a kickass female action hero. Conversely, fewer things vex me more than the tired cookie-cutter female action hero trope. Women can be powerful in a myriad of ways, beyond hand-to-hand combat and shooting everyone in the FACE.

This said, while we’ll explore a wide variety of powerful women, if you long to write that female action hero, this class will (hopefully) make sure you do her justice.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER


Can’t seem to choose between pirate princesses and bulletproof Barbies? We don’t blame you…and, you don’t have to!

With the Dangerous Dames BUNDLE, get both classes and SAVE MONEY.

Purchased separately, each class is $45. Go for BOTH and get $90 of instruction for ONLY $75. You also get to spend a HUGE part of the day with ME (Kristen Lamb) and my partner in crime Cait Reynolds.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Date: Saturday, June 23, 2018

Price: $75.00 USD 

PRINCESS PRODIGY: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. EST

BULLETPROOF BARBIE: 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST

*Recordings of both classes included with purchase.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.36.42 AM

Today, AWESOME W.A.N.A. International Instructor and author-editor-teacher-extraordinaire Marcy Kennedy is here to guest post about a dreaded topic—GASP—grammar. Yes, I admit it. I’m a Grammar Nazi. I remember correcting my eldest nephew when he was learning to talk. Steaks are good, people are well. Chickens are done, people are finished. We raise crops, and rear children. 

This was being a good auntie.

Then he went off to first grade…

His teacher asked him if he was done, and he matter-of-factly replied, “Chickens are done, people are finished.”

So yes, I’ve had to learn to not be a jerk about grammar (and gently correct the kiddos even though I was cheering inside). But take heart, if a Grammar Nazi makes an error, we get 543 e-mails correcting us.

Even Grammar Nazis oops. We need refreshers and ALL need a fresh set of eyes on our work because a lot of subtle grammar bugaboos can still slip through even the most highly trained filters.

Proper grammar, spelling and punctuation are critical for all books. Maintaining the reader’s fictive dream is paramount. Few things can slam the brakes on flow like poor grammar. Think of it this way. We could be wearing the latest, greatest design by Versace, but if we have the back tucked in our underpants or our fly open? Tough for others to see and appreciate our “fashion.”

This said, the best person I know to teach grammar is Marcy, so take it away!

****

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 8.10.05 AM

A good grade in a high school or college English class doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to write great fiction, so it’s easy for us to mistakenly think understanding grammar isn’t important for fiction writing at all. Isn’t that what a copy editor is for? Won’t they fix all your mistakes?

A copy editor will fix our actual errors, but some of the rules we were taught in English class will actually hurt our fiction writing, not help it. And some easy grammatical tricks that our copy editor won’t do for us can improve our fiction.

In my work as an editor, one of the most common mistakes I see made by fiction writers is the reversal of the necessary order of cause coming before effect, action coming before reaction.

When we reverse the two so that the effect comes first or comes at the same time as the cause, our readers will feel thrown off-balance and disconnected from our writing, even if they can’t always explain why. In real life, cause always comes before effect. The effect can’t come before what caused it. They expect the same in fiction (unless we’re writing a science fiction story with a temporal paradox, of course).

Let me show you what this cause-and-effect problem looks like in our fiction, and then I’ll give you a super-simple editing trick that will help you catch it and kiss it goodbye.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.49.01 AM

Example #1:

As the shot rang out, Ellen covered her ears.

The word “as” is used as a connection between things that are supposed to be happening at the same time.

But in the example above, the shot and Ellen covering her ears aren’t happening at the same time. They can’t happen at the same time. Not unless she’s psychic. She couldn’t have done what the sentence says because, until she heard the shot, Ellen had no reason to cover her ears.

Here’s what the sentence might look like if we fixed it.

The shot rang out, and Ellen covered her ears.

Example #2:

He blushed as he realized his fly was undone.

Blushing is the result or effect of realizing his fly is undone. He realizes his fly is undone, and as a result, his face heats. This sentence feels odd because the cause and effect are flipped.

So what we’d actually want to write is something like…

He realized his fly was undone, and heat rushed up his face.

(Realized is a dangerous word in our fiction as well, and was only used here to help with this example. In a real book, we’d want to show him realizing his fly was undone rather than telling the reader he realized. If you’d like to learn more, check out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

Example #3:

We took cover when we heard him entering the building.

“When” works similarly to “as.” It suggests that the two things happened simultaneously.

The problem is that they didn’t take cover at the same time as they heard him entering. Until they heard him entering, they had no reason to take cover. First they heard him entering, and then, as a consequence of hearing it, they took cover.

Here’s one way we could fix this.

The heavy metal door rattled on its hinges, and the sound of footsteps ricocheted around the hangar. We dove behind a stack of crates.

A related problem is when we create a sentence where we’re not suggesting things are happening at the same time, but we’ve still reversed the natural order of cause and effect in the way we’ve structured the sentence.

Example #4:

My mouth went dry and a heavy weight settled in my chest as he led me down the hall to meet my birth mother for the first time.

Technically, this can happen at the same time. This is one of those situations that can justify breaking the linear rule because walking down the hall takes time. There’s time for something to happen as she’s walking.

Here’s the problem. Our sentence structure still needs to reflect the natural order. Even if we want to express that something is happening at the same time, when we write it, we need to give the reader the cause before we give them the effect.

In the above example, we find out our narrator’s mouth is dry and she feels a heavy weight on her chest, but the reader will feel ungrounded because they have no idea what’s causing it. Any time the reader loses connection to the POV character and immersion in the story, it’s a bad thing.

We’ll find this in our writing when our words express that one thing happened temporally before the other, but in the sentence we’ve reversed the order in which we tell the reader about them. So we’re meaning “A happened before B,” but in our sentence what we’ve written is “B happened because of A.”

We need to write down the cause (A) before the effect (B).

Before I give you the editing tip, let’s quickly go back to the example above and see one possible way we could rewrite it, keeping this in mind.

He led me down the hall to meet my birth mother. My mouth went dry and a heavy weight settled in my chest.

Most of these mistakes happen when we’re trying to vary our sentence structure. Variety in sentence structure is good, but not at the expense of making sure each sentence is also structurally sound.

Quick Editing Tip

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.37.45 AM
Image courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half (http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com)

The easiest way to spot this problem is to look for the words as, while, and when. This is where the Find and Replace feature in your word processing program will become your best friend.

In the Find box write as, and in the Replace box write AS. Make sure to select the option of “Find Whole Words Only.” If you wanted to get fancy, you could even use the option to bold the AS, but capitalizing it is enough to make it stand out on the page. Do the same for while and when.

Now you can skim through your book and quickly check each instance to see if it should stay or if you’ve reversed your cause and effect.

Want More Help With Grammar for Fiction Writers?

Check out my book Grammar for Fiction Writers: A Busy Writer’s Guide. The world of grammar is huge, but fiction writers don’t need to know all the nuances to write well. In fact, some of the rules you were taught in English class will actually hurt your fiction writing, not help it. Grammar for Fiction Writers won’t teach you things you don’t need to know. It’s all about the grammar that’s relevant to you as you write your novels and short stories.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:
Punctuation Basics including the special uses of dashes and ellipses in fiction, common comma problems, how to format your dialogue, and untangling possessives and contractions.
Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t including commonly confused words, imaginary words and phrases, how to catch and strengthen weak words, and using connotation and denotation to add powerful subtext to your writing.
Grammar Rules Every Writer Needs to Know and Follow such as maintaining an active voice and making the best use of all the tenses for fast-paced writing that feels immediate and draws the reader in.
Special Challenges for Fiction Writers like reversing cause and effect, characters who are unintentionally doing the impossible, and orphaned dialogue and pronouns.
Grammar “Rules” You Can Safely Ignore When Writing Fiction

****

THANK YOU, Marcy!

We love hearing from you! Are you a Grammar Nazi? Do family members weep with jubilation when you mess up and they finally can correct YOU? Do you struggle with grammar? I confess, the whole “lay vs. lie” thing twists my brain in a know and I STILL have to google it (or usually simply rephrase).

I love hearing from you! Comments and questions for guest count DOUBLE, so I hope y’all will show Marcy some love.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, 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).

Marcy Kennedy, WANA Instructor Extraordinaire
Marcy Kennedy, W.A.N.A. Instructor Extraordinaire

 

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Going Pro Series NOW Available ON-DEMAND

 Going Pro Craft , Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding and  Going Pro Business  or ALL THREE! W.A.N.A.’s bundle deal, Going Pro All the Way! . Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes. Recording and detailed noted come with purchase.

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

 

Years ago, I left my career in sales. Why? Well, I was quite possibly the worst salesperson on the planet, so I figured most any other job would be a vast improvement. I loved writing and decided to pursue my passion. I actually got my start as a copy editor, and years of proofreading and editing have given me a different set of eyes that detect details often unseen by the rest of the world.

Wait. Let me clarify.

Just because something is unseen, in no way means it has gone unnoticed. To the untrained, small mistakes can collect in the subconscious. A reader might put a book down and never know exactly why she couldn’t get engaged, or why she felt the text was too confusing, or why she simply just gave up.

Well, as they say, the devil is in the details.

These days I spend a lot of time focusing on the big picture–structure. Why? Structure is where most writers need training. High school and college English does NOT train us how to write a work spanning 60-100,000 words. Don’t believe me? How many novels did you turn in for a grade in college English? Exactly.

Knowing something in theory is a heck of a lot different than the actual execution. Even though I prefer to talk about big picture stuff, today we are going to zoom in and have a refresher on the small stuff.

Years ago, when I ran a traditional critique group, I would see the same mistakes over and over and, yeah, over. These oopses won’t keep us from being published (especially nowadays), but they can be highly distracting for readers. If left uncorrected, our story could become a projectile hurled with great force by a frustrated reader.

I saw these mistakes so many times in critique, I finally made a list and called them my Deadly Sins of Writing. The Deadly Sins are often the first professional hurdle for writers who want to up their game and play with the big boys and girls of fiction. Why? Because formal English classes (high school and college), are there to teach command of the English language, not prepare us for publication in NY.

I’m in no way picking on teachers. It is incumbent upon any writer to learn her craft. To believe college English constitutes proper schooling for commercial fiction is like saying Home Economics is proper training to become a premiere chef. Yet, many new writers believe that because they made good grades in English, they know how to write (Yeah, I’ll confess. I was one of them).

So after a couple of years critiquing fiction, I began to notice a pattern of common errors. These flubs were so distracting that I often found I couldn’t even GET to critiquing plot, character, or voice. Thus, I wrote out my Deadly Sins as a reference. I believe that if a writer can eradicate most or all of these types of errors, then he will leave the reader with a clearer view of the story.

Today we are only going to go over three. Why? Because most of us haven’t had formal grammar since that awful experience with sentence diagramming back in the eighth grade. And while I could just list the Sins, I believe it will be more helpful if you understand WHY these errors can be so detrimental to even the best of stories.

Deadly Sin #1

Was Clusters— There is nothing wrong with using being verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, —Remember them?). But, they do tend to have a nasty habit of flocking together. A couple of being verbs are all right. But, if there are 42 on one page? You might have a problem…or an infestation.

Was often acts as a screaming beacon directing me, the editor, to places where the writing could be tightened. Was can also lead you, the writer, into dangerous passive voice waters so beware.

The door was kicked in by the officers. (Passive)

The officers kicked in the door. (Active)

Passive voice will confuse a reader, so make sure your writing is as active as possible.

Deadly Sin #2

Overuse of “ing” Whether as Gerunds or Participles—First, a quick review for those of us who have slept since our last grammar class. A gerund is a verb used as a noun—i.e. reading glasses. Participles are often used with a helping verb to show progression (also called progressive verbs)—i.e. I am walking to the car.

***I have left Point A and have not quite reached Point B. Therefore the action is in progress, ergo the term progressive.

There is nothing wrong with using either, but like was, these critters also tend to cluster together. When they do so, they tend to:

a. Create a monotonous pattern

b. Signal places the writing could be made more active.

Joe was walking to the car while smoking a cigarette and thinking about his day. He was wondering if it was all worth the effort. Tired, he pulled out a set of reading glasses. He was scanning the Dear John letter one last time before driving home when a car came barreling out of nowhere heading straight for him.

Don’t laugh. I have seen more than my fair share of similar passages. Technically, nothing is incorrect. Yet, the pattern of ing ing ing ing ing creates a monotony that can diminish the literary effect.

Deadly Sin #3

Modifier overload.  Ever heard the term less is more? The same holds true in writing. Why? WHEN YOU MODIFY EVERYTHING YOU MODIFY NOTHING (Yes, I was being a smarty pants with the all caps). The reader can get so bogged down in lovely similes and metaphors that he forgets the original point of the story, and that is bad.

Have you ever been to a lecture where the speaker’s voice is flat, and nothing is emphasized? Think of Ben Stein, the guy who does the eye drop commercials.

Monotone.

Now think of Billy Mays, the guy who made Oxy Clean famous. HE STRESSED ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING!!!! By the end of the commercial, the audience needed a nap…or a drink.

Again, monotone.

Modifiers can make beautiful writing that transports us and makes us part of an entirely different world.

Or…

It can make us feel like we’re trapped in that nightmare where we never really graduated high school, and have been forced to repeat Sophomore-Level English if we want our college degree to be valid. Jane Eyre. Enough said.

Just remember some simple rules of thumb. Adverbs are almost always a no-no. Why use window dressing on an inferior verb if there is a superior verb that can take its place?

He walked quickly across the room.

He strode across the room.

She jumped quickly. Hmm….as opposed to jumping slowly?

Are all adverbs evil? No. Just the redundant ones. If we want to denote a quality that is NOT inherent in the verb’s definition, then adverbs can be wonderful.

She whispered conspiratorially.

As far as adjectives, similes, and metaphors? Use good judgment. Don’t be the Oxy Clean guy. Have a fellow writer look at your work and see which ones might be weakening your story. Or, take a highlighter and strike through all the modifiers, and see how many there are, and how many can go. Heck, if they are really good, you can use them later. I promise.

Grammar is not a whole lot of fun for most people, but it is necessary to understand it as part of understanding the craft. And you are going to make mistakes. These lessons are a critical part of learning. Good writing comes from wisdom, and wisdom comes from experience. Experience comes from writing some real crap. Sloppy technique, bad grammar, and poor sentence construction can cling to your writing like a dirty film that obscures story and characters. Clean up your writing so your stories can shine.

What are some of your pet peeves? What will make you toss a book across the room? Do you love a lot of detail or very little detail? Why?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of August, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

Last Week’s Winner–Paul Anthony Shortt

Please send 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

hor_pinhead

Writing a novel…welcome to hell.

Just kidding (not really).

After almost a decade in the business, I must attest that fiction is the toughest form of writing. It’s like trying to create and conduct a symphony with only black letters on a white page. So many things have to be balanced perfectly so as not to provide a natural spot for a big fat bookmark. The author must first have a hook that makes the reader want more, and then create a protagonist who possesses a story-worthy problem that makes us desire to spend the next 80-100,000 words giving a crap…without tipping over in the TDTL category (Too Dumb to Live). On top of that, there is pace, tone, POV, characterization, etc. It can be a dizzying experience that can frustrate even the most highly motivated.

Back in the summer, I had the privilege of attending the first Warrior Writer Workshop by NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. Several of my writers from my Fort Worth critique group also attended. We realized after day one that we needed to make a serious change to the way we were approaching critique. Truthfully, we’d known it for a couple of years, just didn’t really have a solid idea how to change things. Bob’s Warrior Writer gave us the answer.

For my one year as VP and four years as Prez of this particular group, it had been a never-ending battle trying to get rid of this sick dependence on line-edit. Too many members believed that showing up twice a week to look for every “was” cluster or dangling participle was actually productive. In my opinion, there were too many members mistaking mere “activity” with meaningful “progress.” And the tragic part is the writing never improved. Week after week, the characters still remained flat, the POV switched so much that reading required Dramamine, and the plots had more holes than cheesecloth. And there were also some great writers, but this format of 5-10 page critique in a microcosm was merely a formula for frustration when one was working on a piece that spanned 100, 000 words.

What bothered me most was that I saw a lot of highly motivated writers in the group who wanted more, and who possessed the talent to write great material…if they could just see HOW. I’ve also fought the battle (in another group) with some extremely talented (published) writers who firmly believe that if members just attend and pay attention at critique, that, by osmosis, they will learn what they need to learn to write a darn good book.

Um, no.

That’s like saying if I hang out long enough at the Dallas Symphony practice, I will eventually be able to pick up the cello and play by ear. Now are there people who learn that way? Yes! And boy are we ever jealous of those guys. But, the reality is that, as a leader, if I cared about those in membership, I had to appreciate that not everyone learned the same way. Thus, we broke off and created Warrior Writer Boot Camp. This was a group designed specifically for those who desired to write a novel.

Making hell a little more manageable, :).

Before any writing (or rewriting) takes place, Warrior Writer Boot Camp runs attendees through a series of steps designed to provide a much stronger framework for a story, and hopefully a much greater likelihood of publication.

Today, we’ll discuss two Warrior Writer Boot Camp steps for success.

1)      In WWBC, we have the author place the one-line conflict in the header.

A woman must choose between her love for her husband and her love for her country when she finds a box of mysterious letters indicating the man she loves is a Jamaican spy.

This one line is to make sure that all that follows after this point in critique falls in line with that conflict. All other group members at all times know what the story is about. We are reminded of the big picture. This makes it easier for us to catch an author who’s gone off on a tangent. Or, sometimes the tangent is better (subconscious working) and then the group can help the author modify the one-line conflict accordingly. This simple tactic prevents “critique in a microcosm”—the five or ten pages might be great, but if they have nothing to do with the main conflict, then the scene needs to be cut or rewritten and made salient.

This one line is the very first step. And, to be blunt, at this point in Boot Camp, it doesn’t matter if it sucks. This next step will likely change that one line anyway.

2)      Plot every detail, no matter how small.

As a writer, your subconscious mind is one of the greatest assets you possess. By plotting “every” detail ahead of time, you provide all sorts of fodder for your subconscious to get creative. In Warrior Writer Boot Camp we require members to detail everything (using the Character template in Bob Mayer’s Novel Writers Toolkit). The more detail the better. And give your details underlying reasons.

Write down that your protagonist loves Frosted Flakes because it reminds her of happier times when she was a kid before her father died. This way, later, when you get to writing and you have a stressful scene for your protagonist, what is going to be a natural choice for comfort food? Frosted Flakes. This will prevent a lot of your characters doing the same things. When we have to think of things on the spot, often we insert our own likes/proclivities. I recently edited a writer who had every single character drinking coffee when they were stressed or thinking. Guess what this author drinks when he is stressed or thinking?

If I know ahead of time that my protagonist is a Christian (religious beliefs are part of the template), then it is logical she pray when faced with an EOE (emotionally overwhelming event). If she is a Christian with wavering faith, the prayer will be different than a person of more solid beliefs. You get the idea.

Getting an idea of looks, manner, habits, beliefs are all vital to creating rich characters and a great story. It’s like going from a palette of paint with three primary colors to suddenly having one of those super-duper paint sets with hundreds of colors.

If you ever attend one of Bob’s Warrior Writer Workshops (and I certainly hope you do), you will probably hear him talk about the characters in Lonesome Dove. McMurtry did such a great job of creating characters that there was no question what each would do when the inciting incident occurred. Think about this in your own life. How would your mother react to being mugged? Now your father? Your best friend? The guy at the gym who teaches Cardio Kickboxing? Each of these people would have an entirely different book with the same inciting incident. Why? Because everyone is comprised of a different set of experiences, skill-sets, attitudes, beliefs, and abilities. All of these elements are going to directly affect HOW they react, or even if they react at all. This is what you the author are doing before you ever start the novel.

In WWBC, we create the antagonist first. Why? Because without the antagonist, the protagonist doodles on and has a happy conflict-free life. We don’t really give a rip about Luke Skywalker unless Darth enters the picture. Our WWBC goal is to make certain the writer is creating a worthy adversary, one whose defeat will elicit cries of joy from a riveted reader. It also makes it much simpler to create a protagonist perfect for taking him/her/it out (Week Two). These short dossiers make it much easier to adjust characters, goals, agendas, plans ahead of time before the author gets 50,000 words in and realizes there is a huge problem.

Pantsers need not cry out in pain. This method will not impede your creativity. I can attest to that, being a long-time pantser myself. It’s just that we get an opportunity to get to know and adjust our characters/plot/setting ahead of time. This will help keep us on track once we begin writing our novel. We can still be pansters, but it will be far easier to see the difference between getting creative and just jumping off the train altogether and landing in a tar baby. This tactic also creates characters that are richer sooner. As a pantser, I always found that my characters were kind of flat until about 40 pages in. Well, it took 40 pages for me to figure out who the heck the characters were! By doing all their back-story first, I now find my characters coming to life on page ONE.

To all you plotters, this method is good for helping you focus on characterization, which is often a weakness for the plot-driven author. It will give depth and texture and provide information to your subconscious to help make your plots even better.

Never underestimate the power of collective minds. In WWBC we now can have qualitative critique that focuses on CONTENT. When a new attendee brings his antagonist (with the one-line conflict in the header) the group now gets an opportunity to say, “Whoooo. Can’t WAIT for the book!” or “Seriously? Are you high?” (we’re not that mean). We get a chance to help the author make the strongest antagonist possible before the writing ever begins. We can say, “That goal seems silly,” “His goal needs to be bigger,” “What she wants is way too complicated, and I’m lost,” “Your bad guy isn’t scary, he’s annoying,”“That isn’t logical,” “What does this goal have to do with your one-line conflict?” Of course, we also can say, “I like that, but it might be stronger if you did X,” or “Great plan. Now make sure your protag’s greatest fear is X, because then you’ll have your arc.”

One doesn’t have to be a published author or a professional editor to do this sort of critique. We are ALL readers, and we know what we like, what will make us stay awake until four in the morning reading. We also know what will make us toss a book with great force across the room. The WWBC method allows problems to be addressed and fixed ahead of time, and I can attest that critique time is now put to far better use than merely looking for repetitive words and misplaced commas. Critique is also much more productive because instead of an author hearing, “Well, your protagonist is unlikable,” the writer now can get feedback from the group as to WHY the protagonist is unlikeable and can be given suggestions as to what would fix that problem. As authors, we often get tunnel vision, and can’t see the forest for the trees. WWBC alleviates this problem by providing different perspectives at all critical stages along the genesis of any work.

Critique now becomes a crucible where all the “impurities” can be fired out.

Over the coming weeks, we will delve deeper into this method of critique/constructing a book. Although having a group setting is ideal, a lot of these tactics can be used by an individual. In WWBC, we are actually a group designed to work for all kinds of learners (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, combination). Mostly, this format provides accountability, practice and repetition. Writing fiction can be hell, but no one said we had to do it alone.

Until next time…

For a Warrior Writer Workshop near you, contact Bob Mayer at www.bobmayer.org.

I would wager that most of us do not sit up all night thinking of ways to treat our readers like they’re stupid.  Yet, it does happen, and many times I believe it is a very innocent mistake. It’s as if we get so wrapped up in our story that we mentally stumble in that brief span from synapse to keyboard, and inadvertently end up treating our readers like they need a drool cup. Hopefully this blog will help you be able to better spot these audience offenders so you can cut them or avoid them altogether.

Offender #1—Adverb Abuse

One of the reasons I am such a Nazi when it comes to adverbs it that they are notorious culprits for stating the obvious. “She smiled happily.” Um, yeah. “He yelled loudly.” As opposed to yelling softly? To be blunt, most adverbs are superfluous and weaken the writing. Find the strongest verb and then leave it alone.

Offender #2—Qualifiers

It is really unnecessary to qualify. We get it. Using qualifiers is similar to adding in needless adverbs. If we have just written a scene about a heated argument, trust me, our characters don’t need to “slam the door in frustration” (yep…got it) or “scowl with disapproval” (uh-huh) or “cry in bitter disappointment” (gimme a break). It adds nothing except extra words that weaken the prose.  Like adverbs, it is perfectly okay to use qualifiers, but it’s best to employ them very sparingly (and only ones that are super awesome). Allow your writing to carry the scene. Dialogue and narrative should be enough for the reader to ascertain if a character is angry, hurt, happy, etc. If it isn’t, then forget the qualifiers and work on the strength of the scene.

Offender #3—Punctuation & Font as Props

***You are allowed three exclamation points every 50,000 words—just so your editor can cut them and then laugh at you for using exclamation points in the first place.  Hey, a little editor humor :). 99% of the time exclamation points are not necessary if the prose is strong.

“Get the kids out of the house!” he yelled. (Yep)

***Ellipses do not make a scene more dramatic, just…make…the…writing…more…annoying. Ellipses can be used but very sparingly.

***Bold font and italics are almost never acceptable if one is employing either of them to add emphasis. Again, if the prose is well written, the reader will stress the word(s) in his head. Trust me. We don’t need to hold our reader’s hand, or brain, or whatever.

Is it ever okay to use bold font and italics? Of course it is. Just not very often or you run the risk of insulting your reader’s intellect. If you come to a point where you believe it is absolutely necessary to use either of these tactics, I suggest trying to strengthen the scene first.

 

Offender #4—Telling Instead of Showing

Most of us have been beaten over the head with the saying, “Show. Don’t tell.” There is a good reason for that. Telling takes little to no characterization skills. Unless one happens to be an amateur who can claim ignorance, telling is a lazy method of characterization. Most readers are pretty sharp and like figuring things out on their own. Thus, if we spoon-feed information that should be given via the story, we risk turning off the reader.

New writers are almost always guilty of telling instead of showing. Why? Simple. They’re still learning techniques that are going to take time and practice to develop. Yet, all of us, regardless our skill level need to be wary of this narrative crutch. To be blunt, telling is far less taxing on the brain, and it’s very easy to slide into when we’re tired or pressed for a deadline.

Too much telling is often a giant red flag alerting us that we didn’t do our character’s Area Study (refer to Sin #5) as thoroughly as we should have. Writing the book is not the time to get to know our characters and their motivations. If when you’re editing, you happen upon a large chunk of telling, that could be a cue that you need to go modify your character’s background sheet (refer to “Novel Writers Toolkit” by Bob Mayer).

Actions speak louder than words. Yeah, it is easy to just tell the reader our antagonist is a real jerk, but it is better to show our antagonist doing things that make the reader decide this for himself. We accomplish this by creating an antagonist who simply does things jerks do. We create an antagonist who has missed picking up little Timmy for his birthday after promising on a stack of Bibles to be there. We have our nefarious antagonist show up at 3 a.m. banging on the door reeking of booze. We make him blow cigarette smoke in his ex-wife’s face. All in all? We get creative.

Good writers don’t tell readers a character is ticked off. Good writers show she is ticked off. Crossed arms. No eye contact. Clenched jaw. Slamming doors.

Remember that over 95% of communication is non-verbal. Use this to your writing advantage. When creating characters, think about what actions will define your character’s nature or mood universally.

For a character’s nature: If you want to create a cad, think what actions cads do that would make everyone in a room label him the same way—checking out every woman who walks by, openly flirting with other women, using breath spray every 5 minutes, telling sexist jokes, etc.

For a character’s mood/mental state: Regardless of culture, we can tell if someone is mad, hurt, sad, or happy by body language. Make a list of all the body language cues for the mood you wish to create. A book on body language can be extremely helpful for the more subtle stuff. For instance, people who lie often rub a body part (wringing hands) or tap. Why? Unless people are sociopathic, it usually causes mental stress to lie, so the rubbing or tapping is a sign of energy displacement.  See, these are the sort of details that make good writing into great writing.

All of us stumble over Sin #6. We have all been guilty of patronizing our readers. Bob Mayer’s “Novel Writers Toolkit” is an excellent resource for learning skills that will keep your prose strong, your scenes clear, and your characters vivid (www.bobmayer.org).

Just remember, if your reader is smart enough to choose your story, then it is best to treat her with the respect she deserves.

Until next time…