Tag Archives: editing

Lesson Twenty-Nine from a Manuscript Red Line: How’s your synopsis?

Side note: This is a repost from February of 2012. At that time, I was finishing a novel that I had spent several years on. I smile when I read things I had to say about that story, realizing that I have written six (yes, six) novels since then, and three novellas. I would never have believed that was possible four years ago when I wrote this.  –Just crazy.

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The publisher talked a lot about the synopsis in the closing comments of the Red-line.  I found this really strange, but I thought it had merit to mention it.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

The reason I found this strange, was because they’ve already read the manuscript.  They’ve already made comments, and asked for it to be re-submitted.  Why are they even talking about the synopsis?

What it seemed like to me (being an optimist) is that they were actually being helpful.  They probably knew that there was a chance that the author may not make all the changes to their satisfaction, and that she might submit to other avenues.  They were nice enough to point out problems with the synopsis that might help her if she sent it somewhere else.

(Honestly, after reading all their synopsis critiques, I was wondering why they even asked for a “full” in the first place.  I guess you never know.)

So, this is what they said…

They went through a laundry list of what the story “is not”.

It is not about this, it is not about that either.  (Quoting what was mentioned in the synopsis)

It is not a character study on the main character.

The quest is not fleshed out…

These are some of the comments.  I am guessing they are saying that the synopsis was too in-depth and talked about the side plots in the story.

I can totally understand this.  It took me months of writing and digging and cutting and beta-bashing until I finally realized what my story is about…

Magellan Talbot has to save the world.  Too bad he doesn’t know it.

Boom.  Done.  Now, there is a lot of other stuff going on that is SUPER important and makes the story unique, but you wouldn’t believe how hard it was for me to boil it down to the above.  I kept getting bogged down by the details.  The crux of the story is simple.

To save the world he has to save the Goddess.
To save the goddess he needs to fight for her.
To fight for her, he needs to find the Rapier.
To find the Rapier, he needs to remember his dreams…
The catch?  He can never remember his dreams.
Or anything else about who he really is.

There is also a lot of other stuff going on.  There is a love story, and a jealous brother trying to kill  Magellan… but simplicity is the key for the synopsis… I need to use only the elements that draw the story forward that are closely attached to Magellan saving the Goddess.

The publisher’s next comment in the Gold Mine Manuscript was “If the story is about saving (the alternate world) then that’s your focus and everything that happens in the story needs to lead to that point.  And the synopsis needs to be focused on all the activities that happen to get to that point.  Tie in every character that is introduced to get there as well as why and how (the MC) is the true key… build that up and show how that’s important.  Show us through actions and scenes that push the story forward.”

After reading this, I think I may have edited my own summary down too far.  I bought it down to the bare bones of the fewest characters involved that draw the main plot line forward.  And I also think I centered on the WRONG plotline.  My current synopsis is straight and to the point, but it is more centered on the jealous brother… which is important, but not the center.  I also took out Harris, who is probably equally as important in the novel as Magellan is.

Honestly, I am just not qualified to give anyone advice on a Summary.  I am just as lost as the rest of you.  I have helped out others with suggestions, because sometimes it is easier to have someone else boil down your story for you.  The best I can do is give you the exact quote that the publisher wrote for the Gold Mine Manuscript. (above)

Read their comment over carefully, and do your best with it.  And… when you get lost… remember that you have friends in the blogosphere who are always willing to help.

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Lesson Twenty-Eight from a Manuscript Red Line: Very Discreet Point of View Switches

I’ve talked about this before, but the second time might be a charm.  I think a lot of people are having trouble with discreet POV switches.  The big ones… where we pop heads for half a chapter are easy to find.  The one-liners may be harder to spot.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

Let’s go back to my little flash fiction scene.  Remember Jason and Eric fighting?  Let’s add a line to that.  (In bold)

Jason grunted as his fist swung toward Eric’s face.  Eric tried to dodge, but instead felt the sting of the older boy’s ring cutting into his jaw.  He fell to the floor with a muffled thump, and groaned as he rolled over. 

Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  “I told you to stay down.”

Eric pushed up onto his knees.  “Why, so you can just pummel me?”  He popped up and swung at Jason, but missed.

Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  There was no time for Eric to react.  His head creaked back, and his jaw rattled as he crumpled to the floor.

Jason breathed heavily, mopping the sweat from his brow.  He grunted and chose his words carefully.  “I told you to stay down, idiot.”  He snickered at the pitiful scene before him, and walked away.

There you have a short-one paragraph POV switch.  The scene is in Eric’s POV.  How would Eric know Jason was choosing his words carefully?  How would Eric know he was snickering at how pitiful he looked?  (Remember Peanut butter and Jelly Syndrome?)  Jason could have just remembered a funny joke.  Eric has no idea what he is really thinking.

The reason I used “Chose his words carefully” which might be a little odd in the example above, was because those were the words used in the POV switch in the Gold Mine Manuscript.  We were in character #1’s POV, and then another character “chose his words carefully”.  They flagged it as a POV switch.

Honestly, before reading their comments, I would have read right over this… I have also seen it in published works, but it is a switch in POV.  Do your best to keep an eye out for little things like this.  It will set your novel apart.

Hope this helps!

 

No, I am not crazy. I’m just really, really anal.

Last week I posted an article about word clouds and how you can use them to spot overused words.

One of the comments, from a dear friend and fantastic author, was this:

Think GirlOk, 300 – 400 times out of 80,000+ words? That’s like what, .005% of your words are the same? seriously woman? You crack me up. 

It got me thinking. “Am I crazy?”

Well yes. Just ask my kids.

But also, no.

I don’t look at 400 occurrences as .005% of the words being the same. My mind calculates the problem as “that word appears at least once a page”.

But, you might say, the words won’t be on EVERY page.  Yes. This is true. However, that means if I skip one page, there might be a page somewhere that has the overused word twice in it. Even worse if there are places where the word might appear more than twice on a page.

And in my worst nightmares, something like this happens. This is an actual screenshot of a page in on of my manuscripts, pre-editing.

1 book page

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Here is the thing: Repetitive use of a word stands out to the reader. Especially when the words appear close together.

As a rule, I try not to use a word more than once every ten pages.

Say_What

Well, that’s what I shoot for. It doesn’t always happen. If I can’t do ten pages (and I try very hard to hit this mark) I try to not repeat in less than five pages.

On rare occasion, I do go less.  But 5-10 pages is what I shoot for.

Is it crazy?

It can take me a week to get rid of a very frequently used word. Sometimes when I’m doing this kind of edit I want to give up and not care… but the end product is unbelievably worth it. I find myself rethinking paragraphs. I find new and interesting ways to describe things. Being this detail oriented takes my writing to a whole new level.

Crazy? Yes.

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Lesson Twenty-Seven from a Manuscript Red Line: Fluidity in Action – How to write a good action scene

Disclaimer – I have a “rewritten” fight scene below.  It is FAR from well written. There are a few show verses tell issues in it that I hadn’t noticed a few years ago when this originally posted. But I think it still gets its point across. (And I don’t have time to re-write it since this post is already late. Ha!)

An example of a poorly written action scene:

Jason punched Eric in the face.  Eric fell to the floor.  Eric groaned and rolled over.   Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  Eric popped up, and Eric swung at Jason, but missed.  Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  Eric crumpled to the floor.

(Yes, I totally made this paragraph up.)

The publisher’s comment on a similar (but not as poorly written) sceneThis is a very stilted fight scene. It reads action, next action, next action, next action without the fluidity that’s needed for a fight scene.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

I have to admit, when I read the action passages in the Gold Mine Manuscript, I had the same comment.  The author was satisfied with the speed of the scenes though, and only made moderate changes.  Not being an expert, I backed off and figured it was just a “style choice”.  Guess not.

This fits in very well with my recent post on “Art of the Conflict”.  This scene is not about dialog, but this is definitely a conflict.  This one needs something inserted to break up the action, rather than action inserted to break up the dialog.

Now, I am not going to put a lot of time into this, since the scene is totally fake.  But let me add a little “art” to make it “flow”.  Fluidity is what they asked for.  Okay, here it goes…

Jason grunted as his fist swung toward Eric’s face.  Eric tried to dodge, but instead felt the sting of the older boy’s ring cutting into his jaw.  He fell to the floor with a muffled thump, and groaned as he rolled over.

Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  “I told you to stay down.”

Eric pushed up onto his knees.  “Why, so you can just pummel me?”  He popped up and swung at Jason, but missed.

Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  There was no time for Eric to react.  His head creaked back, and his jaw rattled as he crumpled to the floor.

Better, huh?  Not perfect by a long shot, but not bad for three minute flash fiction.  Can you feel the difference?  The staccato choppy “This happened-That happened” feel is gone, and the scene “flows”.

Of course, this is a first draft.  In editing, I would have to remove the “ing” word and the telly “felt”.  I would also insert a little emotion when Eric realized he missed, but this is definitely better by far than the first.  The art draws you into the scene.  You experience it, rather than just watching it.

The art of the conflict… If you don’t have it, go get it.

If you want to see a great published example, pick up a copy of  THRONE by Phillip Tucker and open up anywhere in the last hundred pages or so.

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Finding the helpfulness in fun things. AKA: Fun and easy ways to improve your writing

About four years ago I posted about a cool website called Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) that will make a cloud of words from the most used words in your manuscript.

The words that you’ve used the most (AKA the words you may be overusing) will appear the biggest.

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I don’t know what made me think of this suddenly, but I decided to drop the novel I am currently editing with my Month9Book editor into the program.

This is what spit out.

ASHES Wordle2

 

I guess I am not alone in struggling with overused words. I think everyone does to some extent. But I found this very enlightening.

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The largest word is the word that appears the most frequently in the novel.
“David” was not a surprise. The novel is in first person, and Jess spends most of the novel with David.

Runners up

The runners up, though, are cause for concern.  “Eyes” “Like” “Back” and “Dad” all appear equally high, tying for the number two position.

I used search and replace to see how frequently they appeared.

Yikes!

“Eyes=322″ “Like=356″

“Back=406″ and “Dad=390″

“Dad”, like “David”, is probably not a concern, but 300-400 instances of Eyes, Like, and Back certainly are a concern. “Pulled” and “Just” are pretty high up there as well. I will definitely be looking at those, too.

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While word clouds are, for the most part, just fun, you can also use them to point out stuff like this.

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I’d missed this during my own editing before turning in the manuscript. “Back” wasn’t even on my radar screen.

It is now.

Try dropping your current WIP into a word cloud generator. You might be surprised what you find.

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Lesson Twenty-Six from a Manuscript Red Line: CAPITAL LETTERS

2015 note:  The post below is a reblog from 2012. I wanted to note that my current publisher Month9Books does allow all caps, but they must be formatted as smallcaps. (Check Word formatting) In general, though, I would suggest using with caution, and sparingly.  Now on with the post!

Do you use Capital letters when your character yells?  Do you use them for casting spells?  Do you use them for inner thoughts?

Me?   No, Jennifer. 

I would never do such a thing! 

Well, I might… and I have.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

I briefly mentioned CAPS in my first post on the Manuscript Red Line. (That was over Five months ago… Wow)  Anyway… here is the explanation.  The publisher said:

“The use of capital letters to show emphasis in a scene is not acceptable.  Especially don’t use it with magic, since JK Rowling did it that way.” (The Gold Mine author used caps as the character cast his spells)  “Come up with something new.  This is the key to fantasy – be unique – try not to do what was already done.”

Don’t shoot the messenger… this is their red-line, not mine.

In my novel, the characters don’t cast spells, but I did catch a few YELLING once in a while in CAPITAL LETTERS.  I got so used to looking at it that I liked it, but I have to admit, it works much better as “Get out!” rather than “GET OUT!”.  I use caps a lot for emphasis in my blog, so they may have wiggled their way into my novel.

For all you spell casters out there:  You can do better than JK Rowling.  She had her idea.  Now you need to come up with yours.  What are you going to come up with that everyone else wants to copy?

Even after you’ve learned everything you could possibly learn – Find ways to learn more @SJWriters

Helpful_RemindersLast week I attended a talk at SJWG given by fellow Month9Books author Donna Galanti.

It is always interesting to hear how other authors clawed their way through the world of publishing.

But what really stuck out to me, was when Donna discussed some of the mistakes she saw authors make while she was working for an agent. Her job was to cull down submissions and decide which would be read by the actual agent the authors had submitted to.

No___Pressure

While most of the mistakes were obvious to me, a few were obvious… but not so obvious at the same time. They gave me pause.

Had I done that in my current first draft?

Maybe. But maybe not.

Maybe._Maybe_not._00000

Today, I’m going back to a particular scene in my new book, and deciding if a section is “tell” or not. I don’t think it is, but a few things she said made me at least want to go back, take the scene out of context, and decide if it is a valid introspection at that point in the story, or am I forcing information.

Likewise, I have a string of dialog that is there for the sole purpose of explaining where the mother is. I believe that there is a valid reason for this conversation to happen at this point—but again, I want to make sure.

Helpful_Reminders

I guess the “gist” of what I am trying to say is this:  Even after you’ve sold multiple novels, sometimes it helps to listen to people tell you things you already know. That may sound incredibly stupid, but sometimes it helps (at least it helps me) to get kicked in the butt and reminded sometimes.

Writing is art. Art evolves. Listening to others speak about the craft, reiterates what I already know, and helps me make sure that my art does not devolve into the mess it was what I first started out.

Happy_Writing!

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Lesson Twenty-Five from a Manuscript Red Line: Bullying for Bully’s sake

“Having a bully for the sake of having a bully is a contrived way of injecting conflict.”

Well, I don’t think I can say it any better than the publisher’s quote above.

There was a bully in the Gold Mine Manuscript that really had no concrete tie to the main plotline.  His only reason for being in the story was to have a bully in the Main Character’s “normal” life.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

Knowing a little about the plotline after “book one” I do know that the “bully” would have a little more of a role, but overall, he was never really integral to the plot.  The author has even mentioned that although she was sad about it, the removal of this character was actually fairly easy.

Why?  Because nothing he did was deeply tied into the main plot.  When he was gone, the main plot was still solid, and he wasn’t even missed.  In fact, after reading a partial re-write a month or so ago… I have to admit that the story is even tighter without him.

Take a look at each character in your novel and ask yourself.  “How does this character drive the plot forward?”

If you have to make excuses for why the character is there, it is time to re-think them.

Yes, I know this is hard.  I have three in my own story, but I need them for later novels, and I don’t want them to just magically appear.

I know, I know.  Yes, I know what you are thinking…  I am just admitting the mistakes that I KNOW I am making.

Yeah, I struggle with this stuff, too.

Lesson Twenty-Four from a Manuscript Red Line: Remembering where your characters are

Do you pay attention to where your characters are in a scene?  Are you sure?  I thought I was sure too.

Guess what?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

The publisher who red-lined the Gold Mine Manuscript pointed out a scene where the two main characters were running side by side away from some danger.  All of the sudden, one of them shouted from behind the other one.  The comment from the publisher was:  “They were together, but you didn’t say he jumped ahead. How then did she get behind?”

I read over this the first time I looked at the red-line, because it seemed like another “duh” comment.  However,  just a few weeks ago one of my betas pointed out that both my characters were standing right next to each other, and then all of the sudden one walked up to the other from the other side of the room.  Why would he walk up if he was already at his side?

Similarly, I recently re-wrote a scene where someone was seated the entire time.  In the end, he falls off the chair.  I changed it so he stands up early in the scene, but after leaving it for a month, and then looking at the scene again, I noticed that my “standing” character still fell off the chair.  Was he standing on the chair?  Of course not!

The point of all this is to pay attention to where your character is, and make sure it is consistent throughout the scene.  If not, show us the movement.  If you don’t, you can unintentionally make your scene comical.

Lesson Twenty-Three from a Manuscript Red Line: Kindle Syndrome

Does your novel have Kindle Syndrome?

Would you be able to recognize it if it did?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

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2015 NOTE: Since I wrote this a few years ago, I have now purchased and fallen in love with my e-reader. I have to say that I am note sure that I would find white space a problem … but since it was pointed out, it is at least worth thinking about.  But what I DO AGREE WITH is mixing EVERYTHING up with some action. Let’s keep those stories moving! 

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I read right over this comment at least five times.  I do not own a kindle, so I didn’t understand what the publisher was saying.  This past weekend, I messed around with my sister’s Kindle.  Now this makes sense.  Let me explain…

The publisher said:  “This is a very long section that takes up two kindle pages of material.  Break it up with action and reaction.”

I believe I’ve already blogged about the overall problem of info dumps that go on too long, but this time when I read this comment, the “Kindle” word jumped out at me.

It would be foolhardy for anyone to think that their novels are going to be read 100 % in printed form.  In this new era, it’s just not feasible.  As we all know, technology has finally taken over the publishing world.

When I beta-read novels, I sometimes blow up the pages and just look at them.  If it looks like a text-book, I know there is a problem.  People want white-space when they read recreationally.  A dense page seems like too much work, right?

Now think about the Kindle (or choose your e-reader)…  What does it look like?  Do you see a full page like in a book?  Unless you are reading on something large, the screen is much smaller than an actual page.  A Kindle reader may press the forward button 2-3 times to get through a printed page of material.  I checked the word count on the section that they were talking about, and it was 230 words.  That’s about one page in a standard book.  If you change the type font and make it larger, there would be even more clicks to your page.

Do you really want your reader to click forward 3-4 times and have them still skimming reading the same description?

This is what I am getting at… The importance of White Space

White space is when you can “see the paper” behind your words.  White space can be achieved by new paragraphs, but it is done most effectively with dialog sequences.  Open up a few novels.  You should be able to see what I mean.  Your novel should not look like a text-book.  If there is dialog, it will look more “interactive”

I know as a reader I like white space.  It makes me feel accomplished.  True, on a kindle you cannot feel yourself getting to the end of a novel.  You might not even know you are at the end until you are there, since there are no page numbers (at least on the one my sister showed me)—so feeling accomplished while reading one must be hard…  But because of this, your reader will be effected EVEN MORE by lack of white space, because it will be so much more dramatic on a kindle screen rather than on paper.

I know a lot of you might not care… but I thought this would be worth mentioning.  We are living in a new world.  We have to consider what your novel will look like on the new media.   One or two long dense paragraphs might be fine once in a while, but make sure your scenes are broken up not only for pacing, but to get some of that “all so important” white space.

Amendment:  Since writing this post, I was given a Kindle Fire by my wonderful husband, and I am now 75% through my first novel.  Now that I am in this “electronic world,” I have to admit that everything I said up above really does apply.  Some of the description in the novel I am reading go on for 5 or more kindle pages of dense text.  The prose is beautiful, and well written, but to be honest I always start skimming somewhere in the middle of the second kindle page, which is far sooner than I would have on paper.

Also, on the Kindle Fire there are no page numbers, but it does tell you “percentage read” so you do see yourself getting to the end.

For me though, it makes the long descriptions even more monotonous because I like to feel accomplished.  I try to read a certain percentage each night, and I don’t know how many pages I have to read to achieve another “percent” read.

Yeah, I’m a nut.  But I am sure I am not alone!  Have mercy on a nutty reader.  Avoid Kindle Syndrome.

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