Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Manuscript Fix: Can this chapter be saved?

One of my critique partners (also an editor for a different epublisher) pointed out that--in her opinion--the entire first chapter of my current w.i.p. is backstory. (If you heard a primal scream earlier this morning, that was me. Sorry.)

Ah, backstory. Sometimes it sits there out in the open, being itself: a bunch of information setting the stage, introducing the characters and maybe even explaining why they're there and what they're doing. Sometimes it gives you the main character's history.

Sometimes, backstory's disguised as a prologue.

This is a frequent problem with manuscripts I see; the story could easily begin (with more impact) on page ten, but the author has decided this other stuff is just as important and needs to be said. The thing is, the reader wants to be dropped into the middle of the action; poorly written backstory could make them close the book (or click off the sample chapter).

This is A Very Bad Thing.

I'm not sure what this bit o'backstory is doing. Not much, apparently, because as Joyce said, "I'm just waiting for something to happen." The thing is--in my opinion--things are happening. Just...not much. I think it's being sneaky--pretending to have something going on...or...not? I'm too on-top of it to tell. So I thought I'd ask you.

If you look at the tab labelled Love You to Death (which should be above, if I formatted things correctly), you can read my opening chapter. What do you think? Backstory? Not backstory? Tell me why--or why not? Would you read on or close the book?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fiction Focus Friday!


My ten-year-old son's baseball teammate slept over last night; the two of them plus my three-year-old boy are all talking to me at once (or were, until I shooed them outside to irritate the neighbor with their yelling--honestly, she's such a bi-otch...she once yelled at a landscaper for blowing leaves because she couldn't sleep at 8:30 am. And she doesn't even work third shift, like my husband--she's just LAZY AND RUDE.)

Heh. If I find out her name, I'll post it here so we can all go out and sing The Star Spangled Banner under her window. Let her come out and complain about that. "But Officer, they were singing the national anthem under my bedroom window at eight in the morning..."

"Sorry ma'am, there's no law against singing the national anthem on private property and they were in your neighbor's yard. However, there is a law against public drunkeness. So why were you out so late that you need to sleep when the sun's in the sky and people are awake enough to work, sing and play?"

Anyhow--phew, that little anti-neighbor rant felt good--I'm too overwhelmed with boys right now to write anything thoughtful. Instead, I give you some covers from two upcoming books. They're very purty covers--if y'all like men. If not...well...sorry! You're on your own. ;)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wednesday W.I.P.Fix

How are your words working for you?

Recently I edited a book where the author had a habit of writing that the character "kind of" did something.

Jane kind of twitched. Bob kind of ate his sandwich. Cynthia kind of got stuck on -itch words.

I'm not sure why she did this, but I can tell you--I kind of got annoyed with it after awhile. Not only is it extraneous wording (don't forget your Strunk & White: Eschew excess verbiage!) but it kind of weakens the verb. Lord knows, we don't want any weak verbs kind of wandering around our manuscripts.

So today, I have an assignment for you, my little writer bunnies. Go through your current w.i.p. and look for your extraneous catch phrases. Is there anything you unconsciously repeat? And if so, ask yourself--why? What is it about this phrase/word choice/word construction that causes you to use it? Are you afraid of what you're trying to say? Are you telling instead of showing?

Or are you just being kind of lazy?

Remember: As Yoda kind of said: There is no "kind of". There is only "do".

And isn't this "kind of" getting kind of annoying? Yep. I was one cranky editor.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fiction tip Friday: Di-uh-logical Um-brage.

Dear Writers:

Here's a tip for you: Dialogue is not like speech.

Speech, what we humans emit, is replete with well, you knowsyeahs, yups, ums. uhs, ohs, ha's, huhs and even ayuhs.

Though it's good to try to replicate speech--to some extent--in your dialogue, never forget that the main purpose of the conversations your characters have is to tell your story in a dynamic, cohesive way. Adding those touches of realism--as true as they may be to your characters' speech patterns and dialect--often make your prose static and slow down the pacing. In fact, I have a name for them (which is probably incorrect but works): interrupters.

When might you want to use an interrupter?

When you need to show (show!) a hesitation in your character's decision-making process, or shock, or surprise, then by all means, put an interrupter in their speech. For example:

"I was confused," Kathy told her boss. "I was--oh, I don't know...lost." Here (in my crappy example), I've created a character who needs to pause and find the right word. So I show her. Pausing. That works, and as an editor, I wouldn't pull out the red pen for that.

If I see something like this, however, you can be sure I'll be cranky all over it:

Melvin was terrified. The dog was lose, and it was heading straight for him. It was going to clamp its jaws down upon his leg and sever his arteries. "Look out," he screamed. "That's a pit bull, and it's dangerous!"

Kelly barely gave the dog a second glance. "That's not a pit bull, Melvin. It's a Pomeranian. It might nip you, but it's hardly dangerous."

"Oh. Okay." He started walking again.

The problem with this? It's a waste of dialogue. What happens between the time Melvin realizes his fears are unfounded and--in fact--he's made an ass out of himself? Better to put some internal dialogue in here and have Melvin make a realization. You can keep the di-uh-logue, if you must:

Melvin was terrified. The dog was lose, and it was heading straight for him. It was going to clamp its jaws down upon his leg and sever his arteries. "Look out," he screamed. "That's a pit bull, and it's dangerous!"

Kelly barely gave the dog a second glance. "That's not a pit bull, Melvin. It's a Pomeranian. It might nip you, but it's hardly dangerous."

The dog bounced across the lawn like a tennis ball. It grabbed one of his shoelaces and tugged, growling deep in its throat. It sounded exactly like an electric razor.

Melvin lifted his foot and shook the dog off, his face growing hot as he noticed Kelly's look of disgust. "Oh. Okay." Would he ever not look like a fool in front of her? He started walking again before the dog did something else, like pee on his leg.

Okay, maybe not much better, but certainly the reader knows more about Melvin in this example. If I were editing this, I would tell the writer: Delete "Oh.Okay." It's superfluous and the line reads fine without it.

I sometimes think writers feel they must put something there, but they're not sure what. Instead of using all the tools in their toolbox, they try to make the tools they're most comfortable with, work. Dialogue is something we all use a lot, so--why not? But what can I have my character say, after something like this? "Oh, okay" is the only thing I can think of.... I guess that works.

The next time you find yourself inserting an interrupter into your dialogue, STOP. Ask yourself:

1) What is the purpose of this scene?
2) What is my character's conflict?
3) What is his motivation?
4) What is he really trying to say/think?
5) What else can he say that will make the scene more dynamic?

And then, let me know how you make out. Does your pacing change? Does the scene work better? I'm almost sure it will. ;)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Word Nerd Wednesday

I'm going to get t-shirts made with the slogan: Word Nerd on them.
Word: concept, designation, expression, idiom, lexeme, locution, morpheme, name, phrase, sound, term, usage, utterance, vocable...

Nerd: Part of Speech: noun; Definition: geek

Synonyms: dolt, dork, dweeb, fool, goober, goofball, jerk*, oaf, techie, trekkie, weirdo

Notes: a geek is any smart person with an obsessive interest, a nerd is the same but also lacks social grace, and a dweeb is a mega-nerd


I think, if I brought a bunch/slew/gross/group of Word Nerd t-shirts to a writer's conference, they'd sell well. Because we writers are word nerds (techically, "geeks", but that doesn't rhyme as well), and we admit it. We think about the merits of words, their sound, their meaning, their etymology. (Word Nerds know words like "etymology".)

I have proof of this. Earlier this week, I posted a query to my editor forum (where my fellow Lyrical editors and I go to ask questions about...words. And spellings. And other editorly things). My question was: should I keep the British or use the American spelling of the word: draughty. (As in, "the tower was draughty".)

It became quite the discussion. "Draught" is the British way to spell "draft". But, it's acceptable to keep that spelling if one is referring to the drinking of a beverage. And, in America, we do have draught beer (sometimes, depending on the beermaker--brewmeister, beer shaper, brewer...). We also have draft/draught horses, sometimes called dray horses.

Why do we have dray horses which pull drays, but not draft horses which pull drafts (or draught horses which pull draughts)?

My question created a clabber of geek speak. (Clabber, by the way, is a word which means "to clout or coagulate"[when used as a verb] or "clot" or "blob" [when used as a noun]. Oddly enough, it fits in this situation. We created a blob of blabber.)

Part of the problem--for English writers, anyway--is that our language hasbeen influenced by so many other languages and rules and spellings that half the time, you don't know if you're right or wrong. But we writers...we know. And we're proud [Middle English, from Old English prd, from Old French prou, prud, brave, virtuous, oblique case of prouz, from Vulgar Latin *prdis, from Late Latin prde, advantageous, from Latin prdesse, to be good : prd-, for (variant of pr-, with d on the model of red-, prevocalic variant of re-, back, again; see pro-1) + esse, to be; see es- in Indo-European roots.]
 of it.

Having a command (noun:the possession or exercise of controlling authority: expertise; mastery)
of the language is no small skill. At least, that's what we like to tell ourselves in multisyllabic ways. Because we are...Word Nerds. :)

So...wanna buy a t-shirt?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Trying to get organized.

My husband will tell you I'm anything but organized. I'd like to disagree with him; pre-Mommyhood (aka "the time before the brain got sucked out of my head and replaced with rainbows and fairy dust), I was the Queen of Organized.

Color coding. Charts. Calendars. Schedules. Menu plans. A place for everything and everything in its place. File folders. Budgets. Bills paid (on time!). Balanced checkbook and a maintainance schedule for the car.

Now I'm lucky to be able to find a pen that writes and something to write on. (Never mind a calendar.) My wallet holds a collection of receipts (but rarely any money) and I never know what's for dinner until I open the freezer and see what's available to cook. (And then, I do an inventory of the cupboards and pull something together. If we're lucky. Or, I order pizza.)

My blogging reflects this lack of organization; sporadic at best, never sticking to any one topic (except perhaps writing...I think). But this is about to change! (She insisted, hoping that she wasn't about to make a colossal fool of herself in front of the entire internet.) I've decided to create a schedule. Ready? Here it is:

I'm going to blog Mondays (manuscripts, manuscript fixes, and any other M-word I can come up with), Wednesdays (works in progress, words, whatever...) and Fridays (fiction, fiction authors and f-word stuff. I think this will be the day I will feature--aha!--interviews with authors, among other things.

If I commit to three days out of seven (there are seven, right? They all seem to blur into one long period of time where I occaisionally get to sleep), then you (my gallent and probably confused readers) will know when to show (if to show). At least, that's the plan.

It's been a long time since I've had a plan. Living with a three-year-old means short attention spans and a tendency toward spontaniety. So this too, could fall through. (I'll pencil it into my calendar, though.) Starting Wednesday...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another first!

Today, I'm doing my first presentation as a "professional, published author".

I'm so excited. I don't know about you, but when I was writing and hoping to be published, I wasn't dreaming of the day I'd see my words in print, or my cover or do a booksigning or any o'that stuff. I was looking forward to doing a presentation.

It's a dream come true.

Wierd, huh?

Most people rate the thought of public speaking as more frightening than death. I, however, enjoy it. (Not that afraid of death either, come to think of it. You know--it's all an adventure.) I think it all stems from being the youngest in a large family. You have to perform to be heard and dammit--I like to be heard. (Of course, in my own home now, surrounded by dogs, guinea pigs, children, their friends and a very large and loud husband, no one hears me OR listens to me...)

I'm speaking to the Rhode Island Romance Writers group, and I'm looking forward to seeing their familiar and--to be honest--much loved faces. They've been my writing family forever, and they (unlike my real family) have always listened to--and heard--me. I just hope I impart a small kernal of wisdom to at least a few of them, today. Or at least, give them a smile.

My topic: Writing Funny into Your Fiction. Gulp. Let's hope it works.