On Writing: Clean Up Your Mess

One of the biggest problems writers have is editing their work. It’s difficult to see awkward phrases, sentences, even paragraphs since we know what we want to say and so believe we have said it, though readers might have difficulty trying to figure it out. The best way to find such ambiguities is to ask someone to read your book (someone other than me, that is) and have them mark any passages that make them pause or that jerk them out of the fictive dream.

cleanOther edits, though, are less subjective, and writers should be able to find and correct the errors themselves. The most common non-subjective problem I see in even the most polished works are wrongly used participial phrases that end in ing. According to The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, “a participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.”

The example in the book is: Walking down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children. Who is walking? He is, of course, since he is the subject of the sentence, and the ing phrase always refers to the subject. If the woman is walking, you have to rephrase the sentence: He saw a woman, accompanied by two children, walking down the road. You, I’m sure, would never have to worry about who is walking because you’d never use such an ambiguous sentence in the first place!

The other examples of wrong participial phrases Strunk and White give are humorous and show why it’s important to follow the rule:

Being in dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house cheap.
Wondering irresolutely what to do next, the clock struck twelve.
As a mother of five, with another on the way, the ironing board was always up.

In case you don’t know how to rephrase the above sentences to make them grammatical and remove the silliness (the first sentence, for example, says that you were able to buy the house cheap because you were in a dilapidated condition), here are my quick efforts:

Because of the dilapidated condition of the house, I was able to buy the place cheap.
As I wondered what to do next, the clock struck twelve.
A mother of five, with another on the way, I was never able to put the ironing board away.

Another ing problem comes from simultaneous actions, when an author has a character do something that’s physically impossible. For example: Pulling out of the driveway, he drove down the street. He cannot be pulling out of the driveway at the same time he is driving down the street. He pulled out of the driveway, then drove down the street.

Such sentence structures do slip into our writing, no matter how careful we are. It’s up to us to clean up the mess and make it easy for readers to stay riveted in our stories. (This is primarily a post about “ing”s, which is good since I seem to be reverting to clichés. That, I know, is something you never do.)

Authors often shrug off the necessity for self-editing because either they believe they have the right to write however they please, or they leave the work to their editors, but the truth is, it is up to authors to get their manuscripts as clean and clear as possible before self-publishing or submitting their book to an editor. As someone who has edited one heck of a lot of manuscripts, I can tell you that having to point out the same error page after page after page gets tiresome.

So, do what you were taught as a child — clean up your own mess.

See also:
Grammar Guide for Self-Editing
Self-Editing — The List From Hell
The Editor’s Blog — A Remarkable Resource for All Writers

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

What to Do When You’ve Finished Writing Your Book

Someone asked me what to do once they have completed their book and gone over it and fixed everything that needed to be fixed.

The first thing you do is celebrate. You’ve accomplished something wonderful!

After that, what I suggest (and what I do) is let the book lie fallow for six weeks or so, then go over it one more time, looking at every single sentence, every bit of dialogue, checking to make sure each is important to the story and are the very best sentences possible. This is especially important with dialogue. In real life, we often can’t think of the perfect thing to say until the opportunity is long past, but ochampagneur characters don’t have to be so tongue-tied. We have hours — days — to come up with the perfect response for them to make.

Since you’ve spent so much time on the book, you know what you are trying to prove. For example, in a mystery, you are often trying to prove that someone is a killer, has a good motive, but deserves to get caught by your hero; in a romance, that the two main characters belong together. Go through the book and remove all stray commentary and side stories that do not show who your characters are and do not help prove whatever it is you are trying to prove.

If you are a first-time novelist, get rid of your first chapter. When people start out writing a book, they tell much about the characters at the beginning under the assumption that readers need all that information to understand the story. They don’t. I bet you will find that everything in the first chapter shows up later in the story when it’s important for the reader to have that particular bit. If not, you can always add a sentence or two at the proper moment. By deleting that first, probably redundant chapter, it puts readers right smack dab in the middle of the action and makes them a part of the story.

Next, even if you aren’t a first-time novelist, go through the book and get rid of your weakest scene. This will make your story tighter and more powerful.

Then read the story aloud, paying attention flow, bad grammar, typos, anything that makes you (or the person you are reading to if you managed to corner someone) pause or that pulls you out of the story. Make those changes.

Now you are ready to decide what you want to do. Self-publish? Find an agent? Submit to small independent presses? If you want to self-publish, sorry, I can’t help. I don’t have any interest in such matters, and so never bothered to figure out how to do it.

If you want to try for an agent or a publisher, learn how to write query letters. That’s your basic tool for getting them interested in your work. Then search for agents and publishers and pay attention to their requirements. Don’t send more (or less) than they ask. Preditors and Editors is a good place to start, as is Association of Authors’ Representatives.

When your book is published, however it happens, I bet you think you can finally relax now that the hard part is behind you. Wrong! Now the even harder part of promotion begins.

Best of luck, whatever you decide to do.

See also:

Grammar Guide for Self-Editing
Self-Editing — The List From Hell
How to Write a Query Letter
What Works When It Comes to Book Promotion?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

How Long Does it Take to Edit a Novel?

If you have an editor, the editor pretty much decides how long it takes to edit a novel, but if you’re self-editing, it takes as long as it takes for you to get it right, But more than that, it depends on what you’re editing for. Are you editing it for content, to make sure that every scene, every character, every bit of dialogue is the ablsolute best you can do? Are you editing for story flow? Or are you simply copyediting to remove typos? Each of my books took a year to write, then I set it aside for several months. When I went back to the book, I could read it as if I hadn’t written it and so could find many areas where the story bogged down. Then I re-edited it again in another few months, and then another few months later, and ended up spending as much time editing as writing. This was especially true of my first novel, More Deaths Than One because I had to learn to write as I went along. Each deskediting session was more of a rewrite session — the published novel is completely different from the first draft, and yet it’s exactly what I was aiming for. In the end, it took about four years from first draft to finished manuscript. (In the interim periods, I wrote other books, so More Deaths Than One was the first novel I wrote, also the third, fifth, and seventh.)

I start out editing my books for content and flow, making sure that every scene, every character, every bit of dialog is the best I can do, and that every word, paragraph, chapter flows seamlessy one into the other without taking the reader out of the story, then I edit for individual words. Each of us has pet words and phrases, and the overuse of these constructions echo in readers ears, so I search for such duplication, and rewrite the appropriate passages. I also look for wishy-washy words and qualifiers that take the authority from my writing such as “I guess,” “a little,” “quite.” (In case you’re interested, here is the list of words I seek and destroy: Self-Editing — The List From Hell.) I do one final copy-editing session, then send the book to my editor, and finally my publisher.

The problem with most books on the market is that people rush to publish without giving themselves time to let the book rest before editing it with fresh eyes. Of course, this is a different market from the one I was writing for. Even as early as ten or twelve years ago, there were only a certain number of books on the market, and each had to be as good as possible to compete with the demands of the profession. Things have changed radically since then. With millions of people self-publishing, the key is quantity, not quality. Many authors publish three to four books a year just to keep their names fresh, and in such a disposable book world, editing is the first casualty.

I was appalled the first time I heard that someone had spent a week or so polishing the book they wrote during November’s National Novel Writing Month — how can anything written so fast have any depth? Such writers do find massive followings, though, so perhaps my way of “thinking” my books into reality (I spend way more time thinking about what to write than I do writing) is more out of step with today’s book world than those who simply dash off a book, do a slapdash job of editing, and then foist it on the reading public.

So, in the end, how long it takes to edit a novel depends on what you are looking for — quantity or quality. And before you start arguing that you can have both — the truth is you can’t have both unless you have a good editor on call who will do the editing for you. Writing is like driving. Everyone thinks they are a good driver, but all the bad drivers on the road show that a lot of those “good drivers” are mistaken.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Drowning in a Sea of “It”s

I’ve started going through my poor old work-in-pause. (The manuscript has been neglected so long, I can’t in all honesty say the work is in progress.) At first, I only intended to read what I’d written to plant myself in the story so I could figure out what my hero does next, but I’m appalled by the bad writing. Actually, the writing is okay, but the work is in dire need of editing. And no wonder — I wrote these chapters five years ago, long before I learned how to edit.

The worst problem I find is a copious use of pronouns, especially “it.” “It” serves only to tell a reader that the writer couldn’t be bothered to figure out a better way of saying “it,” so the writer used the placeholder word in the hopes that readers would be prescient enough to understand what “it” meant. To many “it”s make writing seem vague, because . . . well, because “it” is vague. For example:

“She’s my mother. I can’t just throw her out.” He hefted the bag of dry cat food, then paused, arrested by the image of himself pushing Isabel out the door of his apartment. As tempting as it might be, he couldn’t do it. When he was a child, she’d worked two jobs to support him, and he owed her.

I’m not sure how to replace the “it”s without causing echoes by repeating words such as “mother” and phrases such as “throw her out,” but the “it”s slapped me in the face when I was reading that passage, and that is never a good sign.

From the very next page: A chime intruded into Chet’s thoughts. It took a second for him to recognize it as the bell over the door. He seldom heard it so clearly; usually the clamor of the birds and animals drowned it out.

And this from a few pages later: He heaved his computer off the dresser top where he’d been storing it, lugged it to his office, and set it on the desk. He turned it on, ordered the lemon drops, then pulled up his plans for the refuge.

Yikes. I feel as if I’m drowning in a sea of “it”s. Maybe by the time I edit these chapters and find concrete words to replace all the “it”s, I’ll be so deeply involved in the story, I’ll have no trouble segueing into writer mode. Despite being infected by a bad case of ititis, the story deserves more than to be packed away as a work-in-pause for five more years.

Self-Editing — The List From Hell

Some people have asked for the list of words that I check during my final edit, so here it is. I don’t eliminate all the words, but I do go through the manuscript and check the usage of each instance of these words to see if I can delete them or rewrite the sentence to get rid of them (particularly in the case of was, were, and had). The problem with some of these words, though otherwise acceptable, is that if you use too many of them, it gives your book a wishy-washy feel. Words like quite, rather, almost, mostly, somewhat, suppose, guess all blunt the edge of your prose. If you can eliminate them, do.  

If you have any words to add to the list, feel free to suggest them. Though you do know, don’t you, I will never forgive you for adding to my woes? Foremost on my list of people to never forgive is Deborah J. Ledford, author of the soon-to-be-published novel Staccato. She’s the one who brought “was” to my attention, as well as the suggestion to eliminate colons and semi-colons in dialogue. (Seems to me I need to add “She’s the one who” to the following list. A bit wordy, that.)

I feel good about sharing this list from hell. Now I don’t have to suffer alone.

a little

 

 

can’t help but

 

 

was

 

 

just

 

 

up

 

 

were

 

 

solely

 

 

down

 

 

that

 

 

only

 

 

begin to

 

 

is all

 

 

simply

 

 

start to

 

 

though

 

 

merely

 

 

always

 

 

matter

 

 

particularly

 

 

never

 

 

completely

 

 

practically

 

 

almost

 

 

extremely

 

 

a bit

 

 

rather

 

 

totally

 

 

really

 

 

quite

 

 

thoroughly

 

 

kind of

 

 

very

 

 

absolutely

 

 

barely

 

 

somewhat

 

 

basically

 

 

real

 

 

end up

 

 

especially

 

 

hardly

 

 

off of

 

 

:  (in dialogue)

 

 

at least 

 

 

there was

 

 

;  (in dialogue)

 

 

mostly

 

 

it is

 

 

because

 

 

felt

 

 

seemed

 

 

use to (s/b used to)

 

 

off of

 

 

ever

 

 

come up with

 

 

even

 

 

anyway

 

 

by the way

 

 

however

          

         

perhaps

         

         

at the very least

         

         

suddenly

 

 

in spite of

 

 

the fact that

 

 

although

 

 

all of a sudden

 

 

if nothing else

 

 

already

 

 

tried to

 

 

a matter of fact

 

 

you know

 

 

all the while

 

 

I guess

 

 

take a look

 

 

truly

 

 

suppose

 

 

fairly

 

 

besides

 

 

awhile

 

 

actually

 

 

had

 

 

 it (clarify)

 

 

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A Spark of Heavenly Fire Update — Copy-Editing Hell

I found additional mistakes to the proof copy of A Spark of Heavenly Fire, so it will be a couple of more weeks before it’s released. I’ve been afraid that I’m going to be stuck in copy-editing hell for the rest of my life, but I’ve decided that perfection at this point really is impossible. I had the idea that single-handedly I needed to eradicate the POD publishers reputation for releasing less than stellar books, but there is a limit to what one (untrained) person can do. I am learning how to copyedit, though, and I do know one thing: however much copy-editors get paid, it is not enough.

The thing with mistakes is that they proliferate when you are not looking. You correct one, and in the process, create another. When I finished my novel, the manuscript was almost perfect — I’d read the thing out loud, so I would be sure to look at every single word, every single punctuation mark. Then . . . I did one final polish, took out all the extra justs and onlys, the particularlys and practicallys, the barelys and hardlys, the began tos, and the wases. The problem is, other words got deleted along the way (don’t ask me how, because I don’t know) and I didn’t catch them. Yikes.

And then there are the choices to be made. Is it ill-prepared or ill prepared? I originally had ill-prepared, but MSword said that was wrong, so I deleted the hyphen. And now I want it back for the simple reason that the hyphen is how it is commonly used. And what about brand new? My dictionary says it’s brand-new, but common usage has it as brand new. So which do I use? I think I’ll leave out the hyphen; that way there will be one less change to make.

Some of the changes  that need to be made entail rewriting a sentence. In the proof copy, smelled is on two lines: smell-ed. Smelled can’t be hyphenated, so now I have to decide how to rewrite the sentence so smelled can fit on one line. I had “He fell silent for a moment, savoring the feel of her tee shirt- and jeans-clad body next to his. She smelled clean and fresh, like cucumber, or melon, or pear.” So how do I change the sentence, so that smelled can fit on one line? “savoring the fell of her thinly clad body”? savoring the feel of her tee shirt-clad body”? Neither of those do it for me. But now, writing this, I see what I can change. I can take out “for a moment”. (Yes, I know that the period belongs inside the quotation marks, but this is proofing, and perhaps whoever is making the changes to the print copy will think the period needs to be taken out.) See what I mean? Copy-editors are not paid enough.

Well, now it’s put up and shut up time. Make the important changes, and try not to sweat the small stuff. I can guarantee, though, that whoever came up with that particular phrase is not a copy-editor. With copy-editing, it’s all about the small stuff.

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Grammar Guide for Self-Editing

My guest host today is Paul Allen Leoncini. He is the author of the epic novel Conjuroravailable at Barnes&Noble, Bordersbooks, Ingram books and http://www.PublishAmerica.com as well as bricks and mortars book stores. Leoncini writes, Once upon a time a dear Agent offered me some advice, and this is what she said:

Grammar Guide For Self-Editing or Groups by Kelly Mortimer (2/10/08)

A – Awkward Sentence StructureRearrange, rephrase, or try deleting unnecessary words.

Aa – Additive Adjunct – No comma before “too” when it’s the last word of a sentence, and “too” means also. Ex: “She graduated from high school too.” Use a comma when “too” appears elsewhere and still means also. Ex: “She, too, graduated from high school.”

Aw- A while vs. AwhileNever follow a preposition with the word “awhile.” “Awhile” is an adverb that means “for a while.” Ex: “Stay awhile” means “Stay for a while.” A while” is a noun phrase that follows a preposition like “for” or “in.” Ex: “Stay for a while.”

B – Blond/BlondeBlond is an adjective used to describe. Ex: “She has blond hair.” Blonde is a noun. Ex: “She’s a tall blonde.” (The “e” is rarely used when referring to men.)

Bc – Because - When possible delete “because” and form two sentences. Subordinate conjunctions can annoy readers if overused.

Bg – Began/Begin/StartedWhen does beginning become doing? Immediately! Ex: Correct: “He walked toward the door.” Incorrect: “He began to walk toward the door.” (There are exceptions.)

Bi – Backstory or Internal ThoughtDon’t write long paragraphs of internal thought or backstory to “info dump” every detail of a character’s past. Break it up. Change to dialogue or action whenever possible. No backstory allowed in the first chapter (at least).

Bs – Be SpecificForget it. Forget that. Forget this. Huh? Be more descriptive. Ex: Bad: “He handed it to her.” Better: “He handed her a drink.” Best: “He handed her a frosty mug of root beer.” You can use unspecific words in the second part of a sentence if the first part is specific. Ex: “She took off the necklace and put it away.”

C – Contractions - Without contractions, writing is clunky. Read both sentences aloud. Ex: “I have hurt my knee and cannot exercise, but do not let that stop you.” Better: “I’ve hurt my knee and can’t exercise, but don’t let that stop you.” Exception: a character’s speech pattern.

Cd – Character DescriptionWhen a character is in their POV, they shouldn’t describe themselves. Bring out features through another character’s eyes. Ex: “Amanda grabbed her brush and tugged it through her golden brown hair.” Correct: “Amanda grabbed her brush and tugged it through her hair.”

Cl – Colors – Instead of using an ordinary color, choose a more vivid word. Ideas on last page.

Cq – Colloquialism – Using two possessives to modify one noun. Ex: Her friend’s dad’s car is old. Correct:  Her friend’s dad has an old car.

Cs – Comma in a Series – (1) Place a comma before the “and” in the last element in a series to prevent ambiguity. Ex: “I’m going to the park, the school, and the store.” (2) If the last element has a pair of words joined by “and,” the comma goes before the first “and,” but not the last. Ex: I’m going to the park, the school, and the store to buy eggs and milk.”

D – Dash – Shows interruption (in dialogue). Don’t overuse! No spaces before or after a dash.

D/t — Day / Time - Avoid starting paragraphs with the day/time. It’s telling! Exs: “The next morning…” (or) “Two hours later… “

Dss – Delete Extra Space – One space after ending punctuation.

E – EllipsesShows hesitation, a pause, or omitted words. Don’t overuse! Spaces before and after mid-sentence ellipses. Regular punctuation for ellipses at the end of a sentence.

Ex – Exclamation PointsUse when a character shouts, or the mental equivalent! Use SPARINGLY! If not, the exclamation point loses its effect!!!!!

F – Farther vs. Further – “Farther” describes distance, literally. Ex: I can’t walk any farther. Use “Further” in a figurative sense. Ex: I don’t want to research the subject any further.

H – Hyphenate(1) Hyphenate when modifying a noun. Ex: She has a five-year-old child. (or) She has a five-year-old. (child is implied) Incorrect: Her child is five-years-old. (2) Don’t hyphenate after a “ly” word. Ex: She walked into a brightly lit room.

I – Intensifier -Emphasizes the word it modifies. Use a stronger word instead of a weak one plus an intensifier. Ex: Monday turned frigid.   Incorrect: Monday turned really cold. Other Examples: very, totally, quite, extremely, severely, etc. (There are exceptions.)

Ia – It and As – Avoid starting sentences with the words “it” or “as.”

Iu – Intended UseUse words for their intended purpose. Ex: “She has pretty hair.” Incorrect: “She arrived pretty late.” (or) “She has a little dog.” Incorrect: “Her dog ate little.”

Iw – It was/wasn’t – Be specific on what “it” is, or if the sentence makes sense without, delete.

Lo – Locution – Delete phrases like “she wondered” by rephrasing into a question. Ex: She wondered why her sister always cut her hair. Correct: Why did her sister always cut her hair?

Lp- Long Paragraph – Break it up. Readers like to see some white space on a page.

Ls – Long SentenceBreak it up. If you have to pause to take a breath, the sentence is too long.

Ly – Use of “LY” AdverbsThese sneak emotions into attributes, or weaken a sentence. Ex: “You’re not nice,” she said angrily. Correct: “You’re despicable.” (There are exceptions.)

M – MediaItalicsMovies, TV shows, books, book-length poems, magazines, plays, radio shows, works of art, instrumentals, operas, and ships/boats (I know vessels aren’t media). Quotation MarksTV episode titles, songs, stories, articles, poems, and photographs.

Mm – Misplaced Modifier – Placement of a word, phrase, or clause that modifies an unintended word, causing ambiguity. Ex: “Slim and beautiful, the crowd applauded for the new Miss America.” This reads “the crowd is slim and beautiful.” Correct: “The new Miss America was slim and beautiful, and the crowd applauded for her.”

Mr – Motivation/Reaction Problem - Putting the character’s reaction before what motivates him/her to react. Ex: She shivered with fright as footsteps sounded on the stairs. Correct: Footsteps sounded on the stairs and she shivered with fright. (or) Footsteps sounded on the stairs. She shivered with fright. Check sentences with “as” in the middle. Switch the sentence around, ditch the “as,” and add “and,” or make two sentences with the motivator first.

Np – New Paragraph - New speaker, new subject, or use a one-sentence paragraph to make the sentence more dramatic.

Nu – Negation Use – Phrasing your sentence in the negative. Ex: The park isn’t more crowded on a Sunday than a holiday. Change to positive by deleting “no, not, never, etc.” Correct: The park is as crowded on a Sunday as a holiday.

Op – Omniscient POVAlso called Author Intrusion. The author is talking to the reader. Ex: She prayed for her friends. If she could’ve predicted the future, she’d have prayed for herself.

P – Passive vs. Active Sentence StructureActive structure is “A” does to “B.” Passive structure is “B” is done by “A,” or, the subject of the sentence is acted upon. Ex: Passive: “The soup was stirred by Jane.” Active: “Jane stirred the soup.” Watch for the word “was” before words ending in “ed.” Check: that, had, and forms of “to be” as well.

Pl – Pleonasm – Redundancy. A phrase or word that repeats itself. Ex: Twelve noon (noon), one a.m. in the morning (one a.m.), round in shape (round), I saw it with my own eyes, (I saw it)

Pov – Point of View Problem(1) If you switch to another character’s POV, show the break with an extra space or start a new scene/chapter. (2) Your character can’t see certain things in their POV. Ex: “She turned her back on him and he frowned.” She can’t see a frown if she turns her back. (3) Your characters can’t see themselves. Ex: Her face turned bright red. Correct: “Heat rose to her cheeks.” (4) Avoid: he saw, she heard, he knew, etc., when in that character’s POV. We know who’s seeing, hearing, knowing, etc. Ex: She saw him moving across the room. Correct: He moved across the room.

Pp – Purple/Poetic Prose – A stylistic device. Flowery, poetic speech. Lengthy descriptions and/or too many metaphors. Stay away from this!

Pq – Punctuation for QuotesFor single and double quotes used for emphasis, both the period and the comma go inside the quotation marks, all other punctuation goes outside.

Pr – Progressive PastWatch for “was” and “were” before words ending in “ing.” Ex: Progressive Past: “Jane was running.” Simple Past (usually preferred):  “Jane ran.” Sentences require progressive past if something interrupts an action. “Jane was stirring the soup when the doorbell rang.”

Q – QualifierAn unnecessary word that blurs your meaning and weakens your sentence. Something is, or it isn’t. Ex: “It was a bit cold outside.” Correct: “It was cold outside.” Other examples: rather, a little, a lot, seemed, only, slightly, just, almost, nearly, sort of, kind of, etc. Exceptions: a character’s speech pattern or speculation on what another character is thinking.

R -RepetitionRepeating the same words or phrases too often.

Rd – RedundancyTelling us something again, even in a different way or with different words.

Rp – Reflexive PronounOnly use pronouns ending in “self,” when the pronoun refers back to the subject. Ex: “I hit myself.” Don’t use “own” in conjunction with a pronoun when referring back to the subject. Ex: “My own sister died.” Correct: “My sister died.”

Sa – Simultaneous ActionCommon when a sentence starts with a word ending in “ing.” Having a character do something that’s physically impossible/doing two things at the same time. Ex: Pulling out of the driveway, he drove down the street. Correct: He pulled out of the driveway then drove down the street. (or) He pulled out of the driveway, then drove down the street. 

Sd – Said(1) One can’t: bark, growl, snap, chuckle, howl, grimace, roar, smile, or snarl, etc., a word. These are sounds or facial expressions. Use “said,” and eliminate “said” adverbs. Dialogue should carry the emotion, not an adverb shoring up “said.” (2) Don’t reverse to read, “said she.” Save that for the kiddy books. Ex: “See spot run,” said Jane.

Si – Split InfinitiveAn infinitive is the form of the verb that comes after “to.” A split infinitive is when another word comes between “to” and the verb. Ex: Jane seems to always wear her hair that way. Better: Jane always seems to wear her hair that way. (Not a must rule.)

Sm – Simplify – (1) Use simple, normal, phrases/words. Ex: Buying new clothes improved Jane’s old wardrobe. Incorrect: Jane ameliorated her obsolescent attire, augmenting it with additional purchases. (2) Use as few words as possible to get your point across.

T – That“That” is often a throwaway word. If the sentence makes sense without it, delete.

Tl – Telling(1) Words like: after, as, when, during, until, before, with, and while at the beginning of a sentence is often telling and unnecessary. (2) Watch forms of “to be” and “felt,” as well. Ex: He felt angry. Correct: He clenched his fists so hard, his knuckles turned white.

Tmi – Too Much Information(1) Don’t write long paragraphs with lengthy descriptions of scenes or rooms, etc. Break them up. (2) Don’t go into detail about what your characters’ actual positions are. This makes it harder to picture the scene. Ex: He held the man’s right arm with his left hand, and then kicked with his right foot to the man’s left side. Correct: He held the man’s arm, then kicked him in the side.

Tw – That vs. WhichUse that” to introduce a restrictive (defining) relative clause. Identifies what/who is referred to. Ex: I want to buy a book that has large print. That has large print is the restrictive clause explaining what kind of book I want to buy. “Which” is used with non-restrictive (non-defining) clauses. Ex: The students complained about the textbook, which was hard to understand. The clause which was hard to understand is non-restrictive because it doesn’t point out which book the students complained about. (There are exceptions.)

Uw – Unnecessary Words and PhrasesOmit extra words and phrases. Write each sentence with as few words as possible. Phrase Offenders: the fact that, all of a sudden, at the very least, in spite of, if nothing else, etc. Ex: By the way, I just wondered if you think that this dress looks good on me. Correct: Does this dress look good on me? Word Offenders: that, perhaps, however, although, over, under, up, down, even, quite, rather, suddenly, etc. Ex: Suddenly, I thought that perhaps she should go over there and sit down up on top of the fence. Correct: She should sit on the fence.

W – Walked/Ran – Boring! Options: advanced, ambled, boogied, darted, dashed, drifted, glided, hastened, hiked, jogged, loped, lurched, marched, meandered, minced, moseyed, moved, paced, paraded, patrolled, plodded, pranced, raced, rambled, roamed, roved, rushed, sashayed, sauntered, scampered, schlepped, scurried, scuttled, shuffled, sidled, slogged, slinked, sprinted, staggered, stepped, strode, strolled, strutted, swaggered, tip-toed, toddled, traipsed, tramped, traveled, tread, trooped, trudged, waddled, wandered.

 

Color Options: If a date follows the color, the word wasn’t in use before that date.

Black: onyx, anthracite, inky, black pearl, blue-black, coal, jet, ebony, obsidian, raven, soot/sooty, midnight, shadow, pitch, sable, tar, licorice

Blue: azure (1300), periwinkle, wedgewood, delft, neon, electric, cornflower, turquoise (1350), royal, powder, cobalt (1683), teal, navy, sky, robin’s egg, baby, peacock, lapis, indigo (1555), steel, sapphire (1200), federal, aquamarine, aqua, ultra marine, midnight, blue-green, blue-gray, denim, cadet, cerulean, ocean

Brown/Beige: earth, nutmeg (1400), cinnamon (1300), chocolate (1604), cocoa (1788), tan, chestnut (1300), bay, tawny, roan, mahogany (1660), pecan, rosewood, maple, taupe, coffee, toffee, cafe au lait, mocha, tortoise shell, ginger, walnut (1100), brunette, espresso, ecru, mushroom, fawn, buckskin, nut brown, umber, saddle, raisin, khaki, drab, bronze, copper, tanned, foxy, sandy almond (1300), oatmeal, tumbleweed, sienna, sepia

Gray/Grey: smoky, pearl, charcoal, ash, silvery, dove, gunmetal, steel, sooty, hoary (no wisecracks!), chrome

Green: jade (1585), emerald, malachite, kelly, leaf, moss (1880), celadon (grayish yellow-green-1768), seafoam, hunter, lime (1650), forest (1800), olive, pistachio, grass, pea, mist, chartreuse, verdant, celery, mint, apple, hazel, green-blue, shamrock, avocado, spring, asparagus, pine, seaweed

Orange: apricot, rust(y), peach, tangerine, persimmon, orange-red, shrimp, salmon, terra cotta, auburn, burnt orange, mandarin, copper, nectarine

Pink: petal, neon, blush, carnation, rubescent (blushing-1725), hot, electric

Purple: amethyst, violet, lavender, heliotrope (reddish-lavender), mauve, plum, wood violet (pale purple), lilac, orchid, fuchsia, tyrian (1586), grape, wisteria, royal

Red: ruby, poppy, scarlet, garnet, red-amber, rose, dusky rose, crimson, cinnabar (bright red), wine, claret, cerise (deep red), russet, burgundy, henna, ox-blood, carmine (strong or vivid red), apple, cherry, tomato, red-orange, brick, cardinal, rubicund (ruddy), vermillion, cochineal (vivid), maroon, strawberry, raspberry, blood, candy apple, beet, currant, titian (reddish-brown), lobster, fire engine, coral (reddish-yellow), flame, cranberry

White/Off-White: milky, quartz, white jade, moonstone, ivory, creamy, snow, pearl, alabaster, opal, magnolia, vanilla, chalky, oyster, marble, bone, cadmium (1822- whitish-blue metallic), eggshell, parchment, lily, porcelain, bleached linen, buff

Yellow: fool’s gold, gold(en), goldenrod, blond, ash blond, platinum, burnished, brassy, amber, palomino, honey, primrose (pale), daffodil (1548), jonquil (1664), butter, buttercup (1777), lemon (1400), dun, tawny, flaxen, sandy, straw, hay, citron (pale), canary (1584), topaz, ochre, sulfur (greenish tint), mustard, butterscotch, yellow-green, dandelion

A Classic Catch 18

Agents, editors, and fellow authors keep telling us unpublished writers we need to be better than published writers to get noticed, so any debut novel that is published should be spectacular. Not so.

I just finished reading Alafair Burke’s first novel, and I was unimpressed. The words were strung together in a readable manner, but it was filled with clichés and generic characters, something you and I could never get away with. But then you and I are not the offspring of well-known authors. (She is the daughter of James Lee Burke.)

Perhaps she and her editor have not read enough fiction to realize that her characters were typical of those in the lawyer mystery genre, but there is no excuse for her use of cliches. Within a couple of chapters I found: “keep your nose clean,” “nip it in the bud,” “a hundred and ten percent,” “hot and steamy sex,” “keep the eye on the ball,” “going down in flames,” “get her ducks in a row,” and “cut and dried.” Uninspiring, to say the least.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe there really are no editors any more. Maybe all that counts is who we are and who we know, not how we write. I wonder if, in today’s market, a book like Catch 22 would ever get published. I don’t know what the editor saw in it, but it must have had some spark that inflamed her into cutting apart the manuscript sentence by sentence and reassembling it into its present form. The title certainly didn’t capture her attention. Originally called Catch 18, she changed it to Catch 22 because Leon Uris had come out with his book Mila 18, and she wanted Joseph Heller’s book to be different.

I know I keep attacking the system’s lack of editorship, but I lose out twice — once as a reader and once as a potential published writer. I always thought one of the benefits of finally getting accepted by a publisher was being able to work with an editor, but it seems as if that is a rare occurrence. And the consensus regarding my works is that they need a good line-editing.

So the problem is that I need to be a good enough self-editor to get the attention of an editor, but the only way I can do that is to have an editor help me.

Sounds like a classic catch 18 to me.

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