4 Easy Edits That Make Your Story Flow Better

As a copy editor, I’ve learned a lot about improving the flow of my own writing as I’ve tweaked the manuscripts of others. Today I want to share five easy edits you can make yourself that invite the reader deeper into the story and provide the impact you want to have.

1. Eliminate crutch words.

Crutch words are words we lean on too much in our writing — used when unnecessary, repeated too often, diluting the point. Like many definitions, it’s easier to understand when you see examples. Here are a few: just, so, definitely, really, very, suddenly, and (at the beginning of sentences), smiled, shrugged, knew, saw, heard.

Adverbs are most often the culprits, but you might wonder what’s bad about knew, saw, and heard. Nothing is wrong with any of these words used well, but we tend to misuse or overuse them. It’s a crutch when you write, “I knew I was going to be in trouble,” when “I was going to be in trouble” is the same thing and a deeper point of view (POV) anyway. The same is true with saw and heard. If a POV character says a bell tolled, we know they heard it.

Bonus thought: Curse words can easily become crutch words too. Make sure you treat each like you would other words; that is, imagine substituting another common word in its place. If it feels overly repetitive, you have too many instances of that curse word — it’s become a crutch and can interrupt the flow of the read.

2. Finish strong with sentences and paragraphs.

Way back when I was in college, I learned about the recency effect. Psychologists have shown that we remember what we heard or write mostly recently better than what’s in the beginning and especially the middle. For this reason, deleting or moving around a few words in a sentence can make a real difference in the impact they have on a reader.

Let’s take a quick example. Which do you think would have the recency effect a writer desires?

“No one seemed to know if the spell had any real power in it.”

“No one seemed to know if the spell had any real power.”

“In it” doesn’t finish strong the way “power” does. Ditching those two words can give the sentence the impact it deserves. Here’s another example, with moving words around:

“As I stared at the knife raised above my heart, regret was my strongest emotion.”

“As I stared at the knife raised above my heart, my strongest emotion was regret.”

The second clearly lets the word regret linger in the reader’s mind. Look for places where removing a few words or moving them around draws attention to the words you want to echo in the reader’s mind.

3. Substitute action or description for he said/she said.

“I loved him like a brother,” she said. She placed a rose on his grave and wiped away a tear.

Why is she said included? A dialogue is needed to tell us who’s talking, but in this case, the next sentence gives that information. The action fills in that information, so that she said can get nixed and nothing’s lost:

“I loved him like a brother.” She placed a rose on his grave and wiped away a tear.

Sometimes you’ll have a double-hit like the example above, but other times a writer has missed an opportunity to give more information about a character by using he said/she said instead of describing their body language, vocal tone, actions, or appearance. Just compare the strength of these two options:

“I loved him too,” he said. “Or I did until he backstabbed me.”

“I loved him too.” He clutched his rose tight to his chest, crushing its petals with his grip. “Or I did until he backstabbed me.”

Door number two, anyone? Simply run a manuscript-wide search for those he said/she saids and see if you want to make any deletions or substitutions.

4. Break up some paragraphs.

When I edit my own books, one run-through always involves putting the book on my e-reader so that I can see it the way a reader would. The prose appears very different in this format than on a computer screen, and it’s easier to see large, clunky paragraphs that need to be broken up.

Your book needs white space — that is, areas without text — to prevent the reader from being overwhelmed with the busyness of the page. Without sufficient white space, reading a book can feel like searching for Waldo; your brain gets overwhelmed.

What’s the right size for paragraphs? It depends. What genre do you write? Historical will have longer paragraphs than thrillers. What’s happening on the page? Description tends to have longer paragraphs than dialogue. Who’s talking? An erudite POV character will have longer chunks of thought than a street thug. So you have to make that call.

Regardless, make sure no page is so overwhelmed with text that it’s difficult for the reader’s eyes to focus.

With so much of writing a book being hard, it’s nice to learn about some easy ideas for improving the flow of your story. These four easy fixes can help you achieve the impact you want to have on the reader.

By Julie Glover
Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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Small Moments Make Your Story Big

“A big story is about a small moment.” ~Matthew Dicks

Think about that for a moment (not a small one).

Every book you have ever read is about a small moment—an epiphany when a character realizes an emotional truth with complete clarity.

Let me provide examples:

THE MONSTORE is not just about a store that sells monsters. It’s about a brother and sister who learn to appreciate one another and cooperate.

 

7 ATE 9 is about number 9 realizing his worth.

 

LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD is about not judging someone before you get to know them.

 

Before I read Matthew Dicks’ STORYWORTHY, I used to phrase this “small moment” concept differently. I would explain that a story, especially a picture book, required an emotional core. Now I realize that is an amorphous blob of a statement.

In other words, not very helpful.

Likewise, if I told you my manuscript was about siblings who learn to get along, that doesn’t sound very enticing, does it? Sounds preachy and boring—been there, done that.

However, frame that sibling story in a shop of misbehaving monsters and suddenly it’s a must-read.

Small moments. They are what make your story BIG.

You may ask, do I set out writing about small moments? NEVER. I begin with an appealing, kid-friendly premise about dolphins or aliens or robots or puppies. If I am doing my job correctly, my main dolphin is not going to be the same dolphin by the end of the story. That dolphin has changed. Not from a bottlenose to a pantropical spotted, but from a mean dolphin to a nice one. Or one who doesn’t believe in narwhals to one who does. That small moment of emotional transformation is what makes the journey through the waves (and the story) meaningful. Otherwise, it’s just splashing in the ocean.

Your small moment appears with the story’s organic evolution. Often, if you begin with a small moment you end up sounding like a big know-it-all. Why? Because you can unknowingly force that theme into being. Never do I write in THE MONSTORE, “Zach and Gracie learned to appreciate one another and cooperate.” SNOOZEFEST. Instead, they open another Monstore together. That’s a lot more fun, and the small moment of transformation shines through.

While STORYWORTHY by Matthew Dicks is about crafting personal storytelling narratives, it contains nuggets of writing gold applicable to picture books. I had a small moment myself when I read about small moments.

So examine your manuscript. Does it contain a small moment? If you hear from an editor that your story requires another layer, that emotional epiphany could be the big answer.

Source: taralazar.com

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Deconstructing Best Sellers in Your Niche Genre

I’ve been studying thrillers because I’m about to write a thriller series. Even though I’ve written a couple of novels with thriller elements, I want to nail this genre. I want my novels in this series to fit right up there with best-selling authors.

And that has involved a lot of work. I spent a bunch of money flying to NY to attend Thrillerfest (and I’m so glad I did!). I took a masters class, and all-day ATF workshop (the highlight of the week!), I met with and shmoozed with best-selling authors. I listened to panel discussions. And so much more.

In addition, I’ve been doing hours of research online. I’ve made phone appointments to talk with experts (FBI, ATF, park rangers, lightning experts, etc.). I am heading up to Seattle to scout locations and meet with local ATF special agents and park rangers in Mt. Rainier.

Yes, I take my writing seriously, and that means I do my homework. Before I wrote my latest novel in my Western series, I went to Wyoming to get a feel for Laramie, the state penitentiary, and the environs. I also went to many museums, dug into newspaper archives, and read passages from books that I couldn’t check out and had been written decades ago that shed light on the 1870s (the decade in which my series is set).

One of the most important things a writer can do, and which I’m in the process of doing now, is deconstruct best sellers in her genre.

 

I can’t emphasize this enough. Few writers that I work with ever take the time to do this. Sure, they read mysteries because they want to write mysteries. But they aren’t tearing them apart.

That’s so important to do! Why? Because best sellers in a niche genre have a specific structure.

For example: I took four thrillers that I love, which are very different from one another, and I made a chart and briefly wrote a summary of the first four scene in each novel. I put the novel titles at the top of a sheet of paper and I put scene #1, scene #2, etc. down the left side. Guess what I learned just from this simple exercise?

That those first four scenes accomplish very specific things. That those scenes have specific action and purpose. What did I do then? I plotted out my first four scenes based on their structure. I feel very confident that those scenes I write will be exactly what I need to kick off my thriller.

Do Your Homework!

I’ve written on how to write a sample chapter in your targeted genre. That’s a very helpful thing to do, and that’s my next step.

Think about grabbing a half-dozen novels in your genre and try making a chart, like I do. Here’s what I do when I want to tear apart a genre.

I take pieces of paper and runa vertical line down the middle. On one side I put the scene # and plot summary—just a few sentences to tell what happened in the scene. On the other side facing it I write what the scene did structurally for the story.

If a scene shows the hero working in his job and thinking about how his best friend just got married and he wishes he could find the right woman, I might write “see hero in his ordinary life. Establish his core need for love.” There is no exact way to word this. Just keep in mind you aren’t trying to copy the plot in any way. You just want a feel for the pacing of the story and how complicated it is, when certain plot elements come into play, how many subplots and what kinds there are.

When you study the mechanics of tone, pacing, description, and all your basic elements, the style and voice will fit the genre. With deconstructing plot, you can get a feel for the actual kind of storytelling you need to do.

Many authors use charts to lay out their scenes, and I find them extremely helpful. This is very similar. You may just want to create a brief paragraph summary of each scene in the novel you’re deconstructing, or you may want to go deeper into the details, showing the time covered in the scene, the overall amount of time the entire novel covers, or following subplots. Play around with ideas to find one that works for you.

Because I didn’t want to copy the structure exactly when I deconstructed a novel, I didn’t try to match each scene exactly. I wanted more of a general overview so that the plot I came up with could have room to breathe and grow.

But you might find you want a much closer match. You might, for example, choose a popular thriller and decide to have the exact number of scenes with each scene basically accomplishing the same objectives, aiming for the same length.

There are other ways to deconstruct a novel than the one I use. Example:

Scene #

Chapter

Opening line

Pages

POV

Characters present in the scene

Date

Location

Gist of what’s happening

Conflict

POV’s goal for the scene

Author’s goal for the scene

The reader reads on because…

The scene advances the story because…

Scene/chapter hook

Feeling it leaves me with

Deconstructing can be done with any type of book genre. And it leaves plenty of room for your originality, voice, style, plot ideas. You don’t want to be a copycat. Sure, go ahead and write a mail-order bride historical romance. Yes, there are dozens out there. But they are huge sellers. Thousands of readers want more. There is nothing wrong with adding another one.

How original do your plot and characters have to be? Maybe not all that much. But if you can come up with an interesting scenario no one else has done, some characters with problems and personalities that are fresh and engaging, there is no reason your novels won’t sell up there with all the others.

So spend time on this and really nail your genre. It may take weeks. Don’t rush. Plot out your story, flesh out great characters, and practice writing a scene or two. Be sure to refer to your research chart that looked at the mechanics for your scenes. Show the chapters to critique partners, or find some readers of that genre willing to give you feedback to see if you nailed your genre.

Once you feel you have, you’re ready to get writing that book.

Another thing that helps as you read through these books is to keep a notebook and jot down phrases and expressions, word choice. I found this helpful when doing my historical, as I picked up adjectives and verbs that fit the era. I later did more thorough research online for slang, expressions, and vocabulary for the 1870s West. But even with contemporary novels, jotting down interesting phrasing or words that catch your eye can help spark ideas for your book (without copying them exactly).

Source: livewritethrive.com

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Nonfiction Writers: Beware the Curse of Knowledge

Today’s guest post is excerpted from Writing to Be Understood by Anne Janzer (@AnneJanzer) a professional writer who has worked with more than one hundred technology companies, writing in the voice of countless brands and corporate executives.

Few of your readers care about what you know, no matter how many years you have spent accumulating that wisdom. They care about what they need or want to understand.

You share much in common with your readers: you both live a world with numerous, competing demands on your attention, limited time for “deep reading,” and perhaps a longing for simplicity and clarity.

How do you provide the right amount of information without either oversimplifying the subject or overloading the reader? You’ll have to decide what to include and what to leave out. The more you love your subject, the harder this decision can be.

Beware the curse of knowledge

Think of a well-known, familiar song, like “Happy Birthday” or “Jingle Bells.” Sing it to yourself in your head. Then, find a friend and ask them to guess the song as you tap out its rhythm.

You won’t expect them to get it right away, but you might be surprised and frustrated by how long it takes them to correctly guess the tune rattling around in your head. At least, that’s what psychologist Elizabeth Newton found when she tested this very thing.

In 1990, Newton was a graduate student in psychology at Stanford University. She conducted an experiment in which half of the participants (the tappers) were asked to tap out the rhythms of common songs, while the other half (the listeners) guessed the songs. The tappers estimated how long it would take the listeners to name the right tune.

The people tapping were inevitably surprised by the listeners’ inability to hear the tune that matched the rhythm. It seemed obvious to the tappers. This study illustrates a phenomenon known as the curse of knowledge, or the challenge of getting out of our own heads.

Once we know something, it’s difficult to remember not knowing it. We take our knowledge for granted.

We can spot other people suffering from the curse of knowledge pretty easily. We’ve all seen it:

  • The physician who speaks in medical terms you don’t know
  • The academic author who writes a paper, intended for a general audience, filled with terms that only a graduate student would understand

These people aren’t trying to hoodwink or confuse you. They simply forget that you don’t know what they know. 
It’s much harder to detect symptoms of this tendency in our own behavior. When smart, caring people write incomprehensible stuff, the curse of knowledge is usually to blame. It plagues experts who write for the layperson, or the industry insider addressing an outsider. 
Of course, a few knowledgeable and expert communicators avoid the curse of knowledge with apparent ease, but let’s consider them outliers and confess that the rest of us struggle with it. The greater your knowledge, the stronger the curse.

Nonfiction writers confront this problem in many phases of the work. For example, we cannot proofread our own work effectively because we already “know” what’s on the page. We use terminology that readers don’t know because it is habitual to us. 
You can defeat the curse of knowledge during later phases of the work by enlisting others for editing and proofreading. But you must avoid the curse earlier still, when deciding what to cover and how to approach it. Get outside your own head.

Go wide or go deep

Before you write a single word, you face a fundamental decision about exactly what you want and need to cover. Answer these three questions.

  1. Breadth: Will you cover a single issue or a wide range of topics?
  2. Depth: Should you dive into details? How many are necessary?
  3. Background: How much does the reader already know, and how much will you need to backfill?

These decisions depend almost entirely on your readers. For a distinct, well-defined audience, you may be able to cover a wider range of concepts related to your topic. When addressing a general audience, you may choose to focus on the most important things, and avoid excessive detail.

The final form also matters. A book gives you more room to roam; readers expect a greater breadth or depth of coverage.

If you are expert in a topic, you may choose to cover it in great detail. For example, masterful biographers like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Walter Isaacson do deep dives into their subjects’ lives, creating works that span several hundred pages. If that’s your approach, you will need to dedicate time and effort to maintaining the reader’s interest. The depth of a treatment can narrow the potential audience of readers.

For some books, breadth is part of the essential value, as in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. As the title promises, it describes a massive topic in a slim volume. Tyson went wide, not deep. Writing about complex topics effectively at this level is a rare skill. Tyson deploys analogies with care, frames the content in a human context, and shares his personal enthusiasm and sense of wonder to guide the reader through the universe. The book is a masterful example of writing about a complex and abstract topic.

There’s no easy answer to the question of how broad or deep your treatment should be. It depends on your purposes and the needs of your audience.

Self-indulgent writers include everything they feel like covering. Thoughtful writers who seek to be understood focus on fit and purpose. Sometimes you have to let things go or put them aside for another project. Focus on serving your reader.

Simplicity vs. oversimplification

Designers, businesspeople, and others often refer to of the KISS principle, which is an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid.

As a design philosophy, Keep It Simple, Stupid makes sense. Don’t create systems that are more complex than necessary. However, people mistakenly apply the KISS mantra as a filter in other fields, including political messaging, sales materials, and descriptions of technology.

Simplicity isn’t always the answer. The KISS mantra can become a convenient excuse for hiding complexity that you would rather people not see, such as:

  • Removing transparency from investments, because investors don’t need to know the possible risks
  • Not disclosing details of policies because voters won’t bother with the fine print
  • Not communicating to patients the complete range of treatment options available or the potential risks of a recommended course of action, for fear of delaying the preferred course of treatment.

Taken to the extreme, the KISS mantra shields us from the complexity that we should understand. 
Certain readers crave simplistic explanations or easy answers that spare them the cognitive work of understanding things that don’t hold their interest. Others, however, may suspect that you’re hiding important details or talking down to them.

When explaining complicated topics, beware of the boundary between simplicity and oversimplification. 
We want to believe that the world is simple enough for us to understand. We like to think that we don’t need layers of experts arbitrating between reality and ourselves, but when we ignore the true complexity of situations, we can inadvertently mislead readers.

Sabine Hossenfelder has heard some pretty wild theories about physics—hypotheses that she believes arise from the oversimplification of scientific topics for the general public. Hossenfelder is a theoretical physicist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, and writes about physics for publications like Forbes and Scientific American. She is also author of the book Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray.

Her insight into the dangers of oversimplification, however, arises from years spent running a “Talk to a Scientist” consulting service, which she started as a graduate student and still maintains today on her blog, BackReaction. For a small fee, members of the public can pose questions about physics, neuroscience, geology, and other topics, or submit their own ideas about physics. Those theories are creative, interesting, and often not grounded in scientific reality.

She blames this, in part, on the tendency of journalists covering the field to simplify the message so much that they mislead readers.

In describing the experience of running the physics help line, she reports, “The most important lesson I’ve learned is that journalists are so successful at making physics seem not so complicated that many readers come away with the impression that they can easily do it themselves. How can we blame them for not knowing what it takes if we never tell them?”

Deciding what to include

Deciding what to cover and what to leave out challenges everyone. Writers, speaking coaches, and others share their advice about striking the right balance.

When you’re an insider in an industry, seek advice from those who are outsiders. Just make sure you find the right people to ask.

Linda Popky could be considered a Silicon Valley insider. She was named a Top 100 Women of Influence by the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, and works with tech companies as the founder and president of Leverage2Market Associates. She’s also the author of the book Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing That Matters.

When writing about topics in which she has expertise, Popky takes care to counteract her insider status. “There are two dangers to knowing your subject matter well. First, you think everyone else knows it already, and as a result, no one understands what you write. Or, you think that nobody knows this stuff, and you go into excruciating detail.”

She handles the situation by finding other people to give her an outsider’s perspective. The key, says Popky, is getting feedback from the right individuals. “You need people who understand the audience and provide the right level of feedback at the right time. Find individuals who can express themselves and identify when something doesn’t work for them. They need the honesty to say if something is confusing.”

Source: janefriedman.com

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Book Promotion: What’s Hot, What’s Not

These days there are so many ways of promoting a book—yet also so many chances of that book not being noticed at all in the flood of promotion that washes over people daily. So as an author, what do you do? In this post I’m listing a few things that have worked—and not worked—for me. These are very personal observations of course; you may have had a totally different experience.

What’s hot:

Cover reveals on social media—accompanied by an intriguing ‘tag.’ These can start a buzz well before publication.

What’s not:

Book trailers on You Tube or similar channels. Heaps of fun to make but in terms of effects on sales, pretty much nil. You don’t get half as many people looking at them, compared to cover reveals. However, as long as they don’t cost you heaps of money and time to make, there’s no reason to not do it as it can be a nice adjunct.

What’s hot:

Interviews with local radio stations—a brilliant promotion, in my experience, although that may be because at our local radio station there are at least two presenters interested in books and publishing. They and their producers are very keen on local publishing/literary news stories. I have had many people over the years say they went to their local bookshop to find a book I’d spoken about on radio. If you have a similarly engaged presenter on local radio, cultivate them; it’s really worth it.

And by the way in my experience local TV can be good but is hard to get on board.

Book launch for ‘Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff’. Photo by Sophie Masson

What’s not:

Blog tours. Great for the bloggers but a fairly large amount of work and time-consuming for the author doing the tour—as either you have to write separate guest posts or answer interview questions over the whole tour. And you can’t just recycle the same guest post, of course, or insist on the same interview questions. My experience is that the payoff in book recognition isn’t necessarily there, especially given the amount of work you have to do.

However, interviews/posts on blogs often work really well. I just think it’s better, for an author, to restrict them to one or two blogs at a time for any one book.

What’s hot:

In-person visits to schools and libraries. These small, single-author events often work much better, in my experience, than being included along with a whole lot of other authors in a festival program. Poets have long known that performance poetry events are a great place to sell books: it’s the same for authors in other genres. I like to get in touch with the local bookshop in the place I’m visiting, to see if they want to come along to the event and sell books: this is a good way of not only avoiding having to cart large numbers of books with you, but also the bookshop will continue selling them afterwards, as they have had the personal contact with you.

What’s not:

Facebook and Twitter ads. You might get thousands of ‘likes’ but not a single sale out of them; ‘organic’ or unpaid-for posts are much better, especially if you angle them less like ads and more human interest—with good photos! Instagram is a good option too, but only around photos and just a few intriguing words—not too promotey-sounding either.

What’s hot:

Reviews in good print and online journals, magazines and blogs. And good early reviews can be used as part of promotion for the book.

What’s not:

Don’t expect too much from local newspaper pieces about your new book. Unlike with radio interviews, for some reason, though people will often say they saw it in the paper, it doesn’t seem to unleash a ‘get thee to a bookshop’ type of reaction. Perhaps, as far as traditional media is concerned, the radio interview more closely resembles the ‘word of mouth’ or ‘viral’ effect that is the Holy Grail of promotion. However don’t let that put you off doing newspaper interviews—they are fun and are good to have on hand if you are putting together a promotions scrapbook.

What’s hot:

In-person book launches. They are still a lovely way to celebrate the book with your family and friends—worth organising for yourself: even if your publisher isn’t doing one, they can usually help with posters, flyers etc, electronic or print. You can also have a virtual launch of course but I’ve never organised one or found them satisfactory to attend. You may well have a different experience of course.

What’s not:

Book signings, unconnected with a launch—you rarely get enough people coming, unless it’s for an event.

What’s hot:

Posts on your own blog, if you have one, about the story behind the book—readers like to know not only about the inspiration but the process. I have found that making sure my blog has a mix of stuff about my own books and other people’s, and interviews not only with creators but also publishing professionals, brings in a lot of readers. Doing that makes the blog feel a lot less like self-promotion and more about being involved in the wider literary/publishing landscape. And that’s a lot more fun!

What’s not:

Flooding your social media networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever—with promotional posts about your books. People stop looking after a while.

Over to you: What’s your experience of book promotion, and do you have any other tips for what’s hot and what’s not?

By
Source: writerunboxed.com

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Learn How to Write and Finish a Novel

According to Kurt Vonnegut, “The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow.” If this is true, then nothing makes for more mature souls than writing a novel, a form that particularly requires perseverance and patience. Though there are no hard and fast rules for how to get from the first draft to bookstore shelf, these guideposts on how to write a novel will help you find your way.

 

01. Give Some Thought to Plot.

 

Writing a novel can be a messy undertaking. The editing process will go easier if you devote time to plot in the beginning. For some writers, this means an outline; others work with index cards, putting a different scene on each one. Still, others only have a conflict and a general idea of where they plan to end up before diving in. If you’ve been writing for a while, you already know how your brain works and what kind of structure it needs to complete big projects. If you’re just starting out, then this may be something you’ll learn about your writing process as you revise your first novel.

 

 

02. Get a First Draft Down.

Though it is a good idea to test your idea out on other writers, resist getting feedback on the writing itself at this stage. Focus on getting the complete story down on paper instead. If you have trouble with writer’s block or tend to let, projects stall, NaNoWriMo might be helpful. Other writers maintain a regular schedule and spread the writing out over a longer period of time. Still, others enroll in novel classes, which provide weekly deadlines and community.

 

 

03. Be Prepared to Revise.

 

At a reading for his first book a few years ago, novelist Dominic Smith commented that the one thing he wasn’t prepared for in writing a novel was the amount of work between first draft and published book. In one way, this is heartening. However inspired you might feel while writing it, the first draft will probably be bad. It will be clunky, disorganized, and confusing. Entire chapters will drag. The dialogue will be unconvincing and wooden. Rest assured that it’s this way for everyone. And like writers everywhere, you just have to roll up your sleeves and get to work rewriting it.

 

 

04. Solicit Feedback.

When you think it’s time to start contacting agents, get feedback from writers you trust. Don’t be surprised if they send you back to your desk for another draft. Address any large structural problems first, and then go through the book scene by scene. Anytime you have a question about whether something is working, stop and see what you could do to make it better. Don’t just hope the reader won’t notice. If you want your book to be good, revise with your most intelligent, most thoughtful reader in mind.

 

 

05. Put It Aside.

If you find yourself banging up against the same problems with every draft, it may be time to work on something else for awhile. Sixteen years elapsed between the first draft of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the published version, for instance. Katherine Anne Porter likewise took years on some of her most famous stories. If you find yourself losing your way, go back to the fun parts of writing. Create something new; read for fun. With each new project you take on and each book you read, you’ll learn new lessons. When you come back to the novel — and you will come back — you’ll see it with more experienced eyes.

By
Source: thebalancecareers.com

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Elements of Suspense: The Cliffhanger

Once upon a time writers actually left their characters hanging from cliffs. In the early days of movies, when theaters ran serialized episodes of a story, a cliffhanger ending was a good way to ensure viewers would make the effort to come back next week. The same was true for serialized novels run in newspapers and magazines. Writers intentionally left characters hanging (not necessarily from a cliff) to entice readers to purchase the next installment.

Today’s readers and moviegoers may roll their eyes at Pauline hanging by her fingertips from a cliff, but the cliffhanger technique is still very much in use. If we change the definition of cliffhanger from:

a situation of imminent disaster usually occurring at the end of an episode of a serialized film

to the broader concept of:

a moment of unresolved danger or conflict

then a cliffhanger can happen anywhere a writer needs to crank up the tension. The key here is unresolved. Something is left hanging.

Consider the commercial breaks in a typical detective show. When do the breaks happen? Just after some new evidence is discovered that threatens to take the investigation in a whole new direction. Viewers are left hanging during the commercial, wondering what the hero will do with the new information.

In a similar vein, writers use the cliffhanger technique at the end of a chapter, scene, or beat to keep readers turning pages.

How to use the unresolved tension of a cliffhanger to increase suspense in your manuscript

  1. End a scene in the middle of danger. The tried and true cliffhanger ending—a bad thing has happened and the character is left some kind of danger at the end of a scene. You might switch to a different set of characters in the next scene and leave the poor hero hanging for a scene or two, or you might continue the action in the next scene. Either way, the reader must keep reading to find out how the situation is resolved.
  2. End a scene by hinting that a bad thing is about to happen. The doorknob turns… A shadowy figure appears in the window… The heroine hears the voice she’s been dreading for pages… This is similar to number one, except the danger is only implied, leaving the reader to imagine all sorts of horrible things that are about to ensue.
  3. End a scene by hinting that a bad thing might be about to happen. A subtler variation of number two. Instead of the heroine hearing a voice she recognizes and dreads, what if she hears a voice she doesn’t recognize? Is it a friend or a foe? The reader doesn’t know until they read on.
  4. End a scene on an ambiguous note. Instead of making it clear exactly what happened and how that affects the main character, try leaving things a little less clear. Sometimes a writer can accomplish this simply by backing up a few sentences. Instead of ending the scene with the sleuth deciding she needs to question the shop clerk, back up a few sentences and end with the information that could be interpreted to mean the clerk was guilty.

The cliffhanger technique isn’t just for the end of chapters or episodes, however. You can use subtle touches of cliffhanger anywhere in your story.

  1. End a conversation with a tantalizing bit of information. Imagine the sleuth is talking with an informant who tells him about a new clue that’s come to light. But instead of giving all the details right away, the informant says, “I found something in the wall of the garage. You’d better come take a look.” The sleuth will naturally ask for details, but the if informant refuses to give them, both sleuth and reader will be dying to find out what’s been unearthed. Ratchet up the tension further by forcing the sleuth to finish his current task before he can go take a look.
  2. Leave a character in a high emotional state. Tension is not only created by external danger. Sometimes the conflict is within a character.  Examples: The hero gets word his wife has cancer while in the middle of a meeting, or the heroine has an argument with her fiancé but has to break it off to interview a key suspect. These bits of unresolved life issues can add tension even when they have nothing to do with the main plot.

Bottom line: Look for places in your story where you can leave a situation unresolved, however briefly. Closure is important at the end of story, but unresolved tension is what keeps the reader turning page after page to get there.

By Lisa E. Betz
Source: almostanauthor.com

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How to Talk About Policing In Crime Fiction

A few weeks back, I was drinking with some buddies at a writers’ convention when I felt a tap on the shoulder.

“I want to introduce you to a fan,” someone said.

Like any dignified author at this stage of my career, I whipped around so fast that the Brooklyn Lager bottle nearly flew out of my hand. A man in his sixties stood before me with his hand out—square-jawed, clear-eyed and firm of grip, in a well-tailored suit. He looked like exactly the kind of well-respected man who smiles and says “I don’t read novels” when I meet him in other circumstances. Exactly the kind of reader I’ve been trying to win over for most of my career. A prosecutor, I was told. Even better! Someone who had been in the trenches and would appreciate the nuances and shades of gray I tried to bring out in my novels.

“I just want to see you people get it right,” he said, shaking my hand.

“Thank you.” You people?

“Every week, I never miss the show.”

“Oh, that’s terrific.” I nodded. “Glad you like it. I’ll tell my friends who work on it.”

Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then went back to our conversations. And quietly, I laughed at myself. Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-cop by any means. In fact, I wanted to be a police officer for most of my childhood. And I don’t even think it’s enough to say, as many leftists like myself grudgingly do, “the police have a tough job.” There are parts of police culture that I don’t just respect, I envy. The hard work, the diligence, the ability to knock on doors day and night and talk to literarily anyone. And the humor. For Christ’s sakes, no one tells darker jokes or can make you laugh harder than an honest cop after a few drinks.

I have more than a few good friends who I revere in various police departments, and truth be told there have many years when I would have had a very hard time doing my job without them. Their stories need to be told, and I’m proud to have been among the people telling them, and grateful to have had the opportunity.

But those aren’t the only stories.

***

About a month after the writers’ convention, I had lunch with a guy I know named Sundhe Moses. We met at Junior’s, on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, near the housing project where he grew up. Sundhe spent 18 years in prison for allegedly shooting and killing a four-year-old girl as she roller-skated past a building in Brownsville. Earlier this year, Sundhe’s conviction was overturned and his name was cleared. In the decision, the judge cited the involvement of one Detective Louis Scarcella, who Sundhe said had coerced him into making a false confession by beating him and choking him. Scarcella denied doing any such thing, but it’s worth noting that twelve other convictions have been overturned so far in cases where the same detective is said to have abused defendants, fabricated confessions, and—this is true—used the same crack addict-prostitute as a key witness in six separate investigations.

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

Now it just so happens that I’m about to publish a novel about a cop who may be a serial killer. Such a thing is possible. A former California police officer named Joseph DeAngelo now stands accused of being the Golden State Killer, responsible for at least a dozen murders and more than fifty rapes over a forty-year period. And there are other cases around the world, including the infamous 10 Rillington Place killer John Christie, a War Reserve police officer who raped and strangled seven women in the 1950s.

But my novel, Sunrise Highway, isn’t really about that kind of individual pathology. It’s about how the rest of us could allow it to happen, in smaller ways, by being complacent, self-satisfied, or comfortable with the status quo. Making the decision not to ask the wrong questions at the wrong time, because it would unsettle the system and make our lives more complicated.

I wanted to tell a story about the pathology of a system that would not only permit a criminal to survive within it, but to rise up and get promoted as a leader (obviously, that couldn’t happen in, say, politics or corporate life). Yes, there have been books, a few movies, and a couple of TV shows like The Shield about individual dirty cops, but those are the exceptions. Most audiences want the lines between good and evil to be drawn clearly, and they want the heroes to trail no shadows in their wake. I wanted to write a book that asked some tougher questions about the world we’re living in.

“It’s not just the Scarcellas doing it on their own,” Sundhe told me. “A lot of other people have to be involved when there’s an injustice like this.”

I think it’s no accident that there’s never been a long-running TV show (at least none that I can think of) about a lawyer or a cop who defends the innocent and gets them out of jail. People want familiar stories after a long day at work and they certainly don’t want to be lectured. And I don’t blame them. I’m not in the business of lecturing anybody or showing them the light anyway. What I do want to do is give you something you’re not expecting, a suspenseful story from an angle that you might not have considered. And if you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good. And getting down to the reality of that can be as riveting and scary as Silence of the Lambs.

If you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good.

At the end of our meal, Sundhe, who is writing a book about his experiences, started talking about the difference between real life and what you see on the screen.

“You know what’s funny?” he said as the waitress dropped the check next to the pickles and cole slaw. “The other night I was watching a horror movie with my girlfriend. Can’t think of the name but there was all this tension in it because the killer was stalking this woman and her daughter.”

“Yeah?” I shrugged and picked up my water, thinking it could be one of a thousand films.

“And then at the end, just when you think they’re going to escape, he kills them both.”

“Ha.” I put down my glass. “Didn’t see that coming.”

“No.” Sundhe nodded. “And my girlfriend hated it. Because she didn’t think that’s how it was going to be. But sometimes life is like that. You don’t always get the ending you want.”

Source: crimereads.com

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Un-dead Darlings

Please welcome guest Barbara Linn Probst to WU today! Barbara is a writer, teacher, researcher, and clinician living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. She holds a PhD in clinical social work and is a dedicated amateur pianist. She is also the author of When the Labels Don’t Fit–a groundbreaking book on nurturing out-of-the-box children. To learn more about Barbara and her work, please visit her website: http://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/

Un-dead Darlings

Kill those darlings.

We all know the cliché (actually, it was Faulkner, not Stephen King, who coined the phrase) and, accepting its wisdom, do our best to kill those beloveds no matter how much it hurts. Sentences, paragraphs, whole scenes – deleted, leaving a cleaner and stronger narrative.

Deleted from the story, but not from our laptops or minds. Many of us (okay, me, but I bet I’m not the only one) squirrel them away, hoping we’ll be able to squeeze them into a future manuscript.

Of course, that rarely works. Unless, by some amazing chance, a grandfather scene exactly like the one I just deleted is precisely what the new book needs, the darlings need to stay in their coffins.

However, there are other possibilities for this excised material if we abandon the idea of keeping our darlings intact as chunks of prose and consider, instead, what they indicate, arise from, and serve.

A good way to do that is by adjusting the lens and zooming in or out. Zooming in means identifying small bits of language that can be extracted from their context. An image, a descriptive detail, a noun or verb that captures a particular sensation – that may be all that’s worth saving from the passage.

In stockpiling these usable phrases, it’s important to note their referents so you’re clear about how they might be used later. Does a phrase denote arrogance, the experience of unexpected emotional softening, a sense of foreboding? Later, you might be searching for a way to convey that very quality, and you’ll have a private dictionary to turn to. Retaining the meaning, along with the words, also helps to check the tendency to insert a phrase where it doesn’t really belong, simply because you can’t stand not to use it somewhere – the hallmark of a soon-to-be-dead-again darling.

Zooming out, in contrast, means stepping back from the specifics of what you’ve written to its source. What was that grandfather scene really about? Was it remorse at having taken someone for granted, nostalgia for a sense of safety that’s no longer possible? Perhaps it was the yearning to be someone’s favorite again, or the memory of a child’s frustration in not understanding an older person’s allusions. What was the feeling at the scene’s core, and why did it matter to my character? What purpose did I think it would serve in the story?

These sensations, intentions, aversions, and desires are only accessible when you zoom out and view the passage from a wider perspective, letting the trees blur so you can see the forest – that is, ignoring the words so you can perceive their source.

You may not need to retain the specific words and sentences. Often, in fact, it’s best not to – since they can influence, limit, and obstruct your vision – but their source can become a wellspring for fresh material. By letting go of the verbal formulation and connecting, instead, with the origin of the deleted material, you’re free to discover new possibilities.

To give an example:

In my earlier now-abandoned novel, the adult daughter of the protagonist was writing a master’s thesis on Georgia O’Keeffe.  The “reason” I had her doing that (ouch) was so I could sneak in a backstory scene in which the protagonist came upon O’Keeffe’s Black Iris and had a profoundly transformative experience. The adult daughter’s thesis served no real purpose in the story, however, nor did the museum scene. They were, appropriately, killed off.

Yet there was something about the O’Keeffe painting that stayed with me – something it implied and evoked that I needed to express. It noodled around in that murky in-between part of the brain where creativity often occurs and then burst into life unexpectedly a year later, providing the genesis for the (much better) novel I’m currently working on. Without that now-dead darling, the new novel wouldn’t exist.

Zooming in and zooming out are inverse processes. In the first, context is discarded, freeing the words from their moorings; the focus is narrow, precise. In the second, words themselves are discarded, freeing the intention that gave rise to them; the focus is wide, diffuse, not yet confined to a specific manifestation. In neither case is the “darling” preserved intact, in the hope of shoe-horning it into a new slot. We’ve all tried that, and it doesn’t work.

We need not adopt either strategy, of course. Darlings can stay dead. But that would be a shame, since they often contain much that’s of value. That’s why we love them.

Do you, like me, have a file of deleted material?

What life might the material still contain if you approach it in a fresh way?

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Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Genres–Zombie Apocalypse

The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post every day except Sundays during the month of April on a thematic topic. This year, my second year with A to Z, I’ll cover writing genres.

Definition

Zombie Apocalypse: in which the widespread rise of zombies hostile to human life engages in a general assault on civilization

Tipsa to z

  1. The literary subtext of a zombie apocalypse is usually that civilization is inherently fragile in the face of truly unprecedented threats and that most individuals cannot be relied upon to support the greater good if the personal cost becomes too high.
  2. For a zombie event to be apocalyptic, it needs to involve a large number of undead, shambling around, or, if you’re into the more modern zombies, running.
  3. Being undead must be spreading throughout the population or it’s not apocalyptic.
  4. Initial contacts with zombies must be extremely traumatic, causing shock, panic, disbelief and possibly denial, and hampering survivors’ ability to deal with hostile encounters.
  5. The response of authorities to the threat must be slower than its rate of growth, giving the zombie plague time to expand beyond containment.
  6. The society must collapse as zombies take full control while small groups of the living must fight for their survival.
  7. Zombiism must not only spread throughout a population but throughout the geography. It can’t be contained in a single area.
  8. The stories usually follow a single group of survivors, caught up in the sudden rush of the crisis.
  9. The narrative generally progresses from the onset of the zombie plague, then initial attempts to seek the aid of authorities, the failure of those authorities, through to the sudden catastrophic collapse of all large-scale organization and the characters’ subsequent attempts to survive on their own.
  10. Such stories are often squarely focused on the way their characters react to such an extreme catastrophe, and how their personalities are changed by the stress, often acting on more primal motivations (fear, self-preservation) than they would display in normal life.

Popular Books

  1. Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
  2. Dawn of the Dead by by George A. Romero
  3. Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  4. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
  5. The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse by Stephen Jones
  6. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
  7. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  8. World War Z by Max Brooks
  9. The Z Word (Apocalypse Babes) by Bella Street
  10. Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Click for complete list of  2018 A to Z genres

By Jacqui Murray
Source: worddreams.wordpress.com

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