Saturday, April 25, 2015

A to Z Challenge: V is for Voice

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Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.


V is for Voice

Yet another major problem for many writers: passive versus active voice. Passive voice makes your writing wordy and choppy and boring. Active voice will root your reader in your story and keep them there.

So what are these strange disembodied voices? How do we define them?

Active voice: The subject is acting directly, and the verb moves the sentence along. "John carried the books to the table."

Passive voice: The subject is being acted upon by something else, and the verb gets completely lost. "The books were carried by John to the table."

How to recognize passive voice:

1) Look for verb modifiers: "...was carried," "were carrying," etc.
2) Excessive wordiness: "something was done to someone by something else."
3) Excessive prepositions. "were carried by John," "was taken around the table by the boy..." etc.

We all want strong characters, right? So make the subjects of your sentences act upon the world around them, not the other way around. If you go through and change all instances of passive voice to active, you'll be amazed at how much more concise and professional your writing is.

How do you stay away from passive voice?



Friday, April 24, 2015

A to Z Challenge: U is for Unambiguity

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Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.


U is for Unambiguity

Yes, that's totally a word. More importantly, it starts with U. :D

Last year at a conference, I went to a class on writing middle grade. Now, I don't actually write middle grade. But one of the main characters in my high-fantasy WIP is a young boy. I wanted some tips on making him more realistic.

The woman teaching the class said something that really stuck with me: Sacrifice everything for clarity. She was talking about how middle-grade readers really don't know how to read between the lines, yet. So they won't get sarcasm or symbolism or even much foreshadowing. But the phrase stuck with me.

Really, that shouldn't be a rule just for middle-grade, but for writing in general. It's not a practical tip you can apply to your manuscript, but keep it in mind.

Does this mean you can't be mysterious and keep your readers guessing by being non-specific? Of course not. Totally do that. Really we're talking more about the actual writing here, rather than the content.

Bottom line: If you're trying to decide whether or not to cut something, but your editors or beta readers have reported being confused by it, cut it. Kill your darling. Sacrifice everything for clarity.

Are you unambiguous in your writing?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A to Z Challenge: T is for Trite

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Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.

T is for Trite

As in cliches. Cliches can be used well sometimes in writing, but as a general rule it's a good idea to stay away from them.

Kinds of Cliches:

1) Trope Cliches: I talked about these somewhat in my post on genre rules. If you're going to use a common trope like unicorns or dwarves or hobbits, just make sure you put your own spin on them enough that they don't come off as cliche.
When To Use Them: When you have something new to say and are doing your own thing with them. Preferably something that has never been done before, and coupled with great characters, plot, and writing.
Example: T.V. show Once Upon a Time. Now, I'm not sure these are tropes, exactly, but they are retelling the Cinderella story, the Rumplestiltskin character, etc., which have become tropes in the world of fairy tale retelling. But they take each story, interlock it with the others, and make it their own. This show has become a phenomenon because they do it so well.
When Not to Use Them: When you're more or less retelling a classic story, character, or legend with only minor variations from the original.
Example: many and varied.
2) Speech Cliches: Things like, "I'm taking it one day at a time," "Let's get the hell out of dodge" (one of my personal favorites that I always go back and cut) or wise proverbs. 
When to use them: Almost never. Every once in a while to show character or dialect perhaps, but even then be very sparse in your usage.
When Not to use them: In narrative or much in speech, even to show character or dialect. Be very choosy. Instead, come up with your own figure of speech that's unique to the character. It will be more original, more memorable, and less cringe-worthy if you can't pull it off.
3) Descriptive Cliches: Snow-capped peaks, dark mountains of doom, and fathomless depths have been described so often in fiction that they hardly mean anything at all anymore. Find more unique descriptions that actually evoke imagery!
When to use them: Never
When not to use them: Always
How do you guard against cliches?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A to Z Challenge: S is for Sentence Variation

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Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.

S is for Sentence Variation

Sometimes when I'm in the zone and am just flying through the first draft of a scene, I can really get into a rut with my sentence structure. It's the kind of thing I don't usually notice until my critique group starts highlighting words.

The most common sentence structure we talk about is "Noun verb ..." But you don't want sixteen sentences in a row that start with "He/She did something."

Again, you probably won't notice this on your own. This is where editors and critquers come in majorly handy. And it's a super easy fix. 

Example:

Vapid sentence structure: 
Jane pressed the button on her keyless entry. She heard the locks pop. Then she heard a noise and turned to look behind her. She could see someone hiding between the cars two rows over. She was afraid. Moving quickly, she swung her car door open, dove in, and hit the power-lock.
Charismatic Sentence Structure:
Jane pressed the button on her keyless entry and heard the locks pop. Just then, a soft noise from somewhere behind her made her turn. Someone was hiding between cars two rows over. Heart pounding, she swung open her car door, dove in, and hit the power-lock.
Notice how the first time, nearly every sentence began with "She verb..." By changing up the sentences in the second paragraph, only two sentences begin that way. With the others, the object became the subject. Using a range of sentences this way naturally tightens your writing, makes it less choppy and much easier to read.

How do you vary your sentence structure?



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A to Z Challenge: R is for Repetition

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Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.


R is for Repetition

Repetition is another major problem for newbie authors. I know it was for me. When I went back and wrote one of the first manuscripts I wrote, I couldn't believe how many times I said the exact. Same. Thing. Sometimes in different ways. Sometimes using the same words. As in, verbatim. Yeah, newbie writer syndrome. This is something that content editors are great for. 

As a general rule, repetition is a bad thing. However, it can be a good thing IF it's done intentionally.

When Repetition is Bad:

1) When you explain something in one chapter, forget you did, and explain it again later. 
2) When you say the exact same thing twice, only paragraphs apart, but in two different ways so even you don't realize it repeats. 
3) When it's in the writing, rather than in the story, and it's something the reader shouldn't notice. (i.e. the above examples)

When Repetition is Good:

1) Themes and motifs can cause some repetition. However, it should be subtle, and not exactly the same over and over again. If it's too similar, it goes from being a symbolic theme or motif to slamming the reader over the head with it. 

2) If you foreshadow, and then fulfill your own prophecies, there's bound to be some repetition, too. But again, it should be subtle enough that the reader is only just barely conscious of it, if at all.

3) When it's part of the plot and you want the reader to be aware of it. (Example: something like a causality look--or for you non-Trekkies, Groundhog's Day--where the point is to repeat everything over and over.)

General Rules for Repetition in your Writing: 

1) If it's on purpose, great. Just be very careful and as subtle as possible while still getting your point across.

2) If it's not on purpose, edit, edit, edit!!!


Do you use repetition in your writing and how so?

Monday, April 20, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Q is for Quotes (Around Dialogue)

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Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.


Q is for Quotes

Volumes have been written about how to write great dialogue, so I'll only touch on a few things for editing.

1) Everything I've already gone through this month (crutch words, filler words, word choice to establish mood, etc.) all apply to dialogue. Cut those extra words. Use dialogue to establish mood and tone. 

2) Make it realistic. Don't be too over the top. As much as you want drama in your dialogue, not every sentence should end with an exclamation point. Just think about how people talk to one another and emulate that. I actually think watching great T.V. can help you here. Yup, that's right. I just gave you an excuse to plop down in front of your favorite show and call it research. Your welcome! :D

3) Make it unrealistic. In terms of drama, use realism. In terms of grammar and filler words, do NOT use realism. None of us talk in grammatically complete sentences. We use TONS of filler words. ("Can we, like, go to the store, like, right now?") We talk in fragments and interrupt ourselves constantly. (As a race, we all have communication schizophrenia.) Unless you're establishing character through dialogue, don't use these very human speech flaws. Yes, it can establish character, but even so be choosy. It eats up your word count and doesn't read strongly. At all.

4) Read your dialogue out loud. Reading it out loud can do wonders for writing dialogue. It helps you hear it different, and often to hear it as your readers will read it. If it sounds awesome out loud, you're probably golden.

What tricks do you have for writing great dialogue.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A to Z Challenge: P is for Plot Points

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Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.


P is for Plot Points

There are plenty of different systems for making sure you're hitting all the important plot points. This one is mine. I've presented these points at several conferences and writing workshops, now, and always get a good reception for them.

9 Plot Points for a Well-Fleshed-Out Story

(We'll use The Fellowship of the Ring for examples.)

1. The World Before - As in, the world before your story, before your conflict is introduced.

Example: Frodo leads a peaceful life in the Shire.

2. Intro of Conflict -The main character's (MC's) world changes in some way. Great time to introduce villain, problem the world produces, or over-arching conflict.

Example: Frodo learns what the One Ring is and what it might mean for his (and the Shire's) future.

3. Escalation #1/Call to Adventure - Things get worse. Put pressure on your characters. Great place for heart-pounding action. Things happen that are beyond the MC's control. They should be reacting, mostly out of desperation.

Example: The Black Riders show up and Frodo flees the Shire with the ring.

4. Turning Point - Characters go from reaction to action. Up until now, things were acting upon them. Now, they take their fate in their hands by deciding to DO something. (This usually follows them getting a lot more information that they didn't have before.)

Example: Frodo volunteers to take the One Ring to Mordor after the Council of Elrond.

5. Escalation #2 - Things get MUCH worse for your MC. Often this takes the form of a friend or mentor dying, the bad guys winning a great victory, some key part of the plan is lost, or some vital piece of information they didn't have comes back to bite them in the butt. Anything that puts their success in doubt and/or causes despair will work.

Example: Gandalf is killed by the balrog.

6. Climax - A confrontation between your MC and their major conflict and/or villain. (If it's a series, the over-arching villain may not appear until the end, but there's still a major conflict for the character in this installment.

Example: Frodo confronts the idea of whether or not he's up to (and whether it's worth it to him) to take the ring to Mordor.

7. Uber-Despair - This is your character's lowest point. They're sure they'll fail. They can't do what they've been trying to do the entire story. There is no hope.

Example: Frodo believes he'll have to go to Mordor alone and doesn't believe he's up to bearing the burden alone.

8. Ah Hah Moment - The solution to your character's dilemna is realized. Most often it is something they already possess, have within them, or have already done, but didn't realize it.

Example: Frodo realizes he has it within himself to destroy the ring. Also, because of past treatment, Sam's loyalty to Frodo is already in place and he comes to Mordor with his master.

9. Resolution - Resolve major conflicts in this installment (if not in overall series) and come to a good summing up place for the plot. If there will be further books in the series, do something that will propel readers toward the next novel.

Example: Frodo and Sam head into Mordor

Do you think these 9 Plot Points cover everything?