Tag Archives: editing

What Makes a Book Good?

Ah, the ultimate question for writers. We spend so much of our time crafting our writing: plotting, character sketches, writing that first draft, editing and revising, rewriting, getting our work critiqued…the list goes on.5780584814_b5b11f73d8_z

Yet, say two people, Person A and Person B, have spent equal time working on their writing, why does one story come out better than the other?

Let’s rule out different genres and say that both Persons A and B are writing adult science fiction, and that both of their stories take place in space. Their story plots may even be very similar.

Let’s go with the premise of a young woman, stranded in space, who runs across an ascended being. This being winds up as part of an ancient race that has acted as various gods throughout human history, and who is now bored and feels like it’s time for the human race to end and another life form to rise to prominence.

Both stories sound interesting, however after reading the stories, Person A’s is the clear winner.

Why?

For both objective and subjective reasons.

Let’s go with some of the more objective ones:

  • 3086655956_201ab2b89e_zAttention to detail plays a huge role in how well a story turns out. It’s basically an umbrella phrase for the following reasons, because if you don’t pay attention to the small things, your readers won’t be able to picture what’s going on, and then they won’t be invested in the story.
  • World building is an aspect of writing that I’m seeing less and less of in fiction, especially young adult fiction. This is tragic, because the environment in which your story takes place is vital. It’s where everything happens. Some of my favorite books have such detailed environments that the place becomes a living, breathing character.
  • Internal Consistency is a key component as well. You can’t have a plot that jumps all over the place. I once read a book, where, on page 100, Character 9 was one of my favorite characters of the story, and then suddenly, on page 101, Character 9 was a complete jerk, who ended up being the villain of the piece. This switcheroo made no sense. I felt that the author realized readers liked Character 9 more than the main characters, and so the author had to make Character 9 evil. That novel lost all credibility.

Another example (and this one happens to be popular in young adult fiction): the main 4496975747_1e0b661a31_zcharacter is supposedly the chosen one/the one to save everyone, however the protagonist trips over her feet during every fight and must be saved by the handsome, yet jerk of a romantic interest. This is ridiculous because, unless you’re writing a comedy, how can someone be elite or the epitome of something, if she constantly needs saving?

  • Well-developed characters can make a story. As I stated earlier, world building is utterly important to the story. However, sometimes you can get away with poor world building, if you have phenomenal characters. There are multiple books I’ve read, where I knew the world building was awful, but it didn’t matter because I was invested in the characters. Granted, most of these novels were in first-person, so that the view I had of the overall story was narrowed to one character.

A problem with these type of stories, is that if you don’t like the main character, then nothing is holding you to the book, and you’ll most likely put it down and never look at it again.

  • No little misspellings or poor grammar. Readers will notice a lack of editing. They’ll pick up on all the bad punctuation, poor spelling, and grammatical mistakes. If there are too many linguistic errors, readers may get pulled out of the story. They may not return. (I once saw a novel with a misspelled title; I didn’t go past the title page.)
  • Originality. While it’s difficult to be completely original, you can take a well-used premise and make it your own. It’s too often that I see one book or book series get popular and suddenly there’s a flood of copy-cat novels, and each one seems to be worse than the predecessor.

Back to Persons A and B. Now, while most people preferred Person A’s story, a few liked Person B’s more. Though Person A’s work had better world building and more developed characters, not everyone liked Person A’s story for subjective reasons. Let’s say that one person didn’t like the story because the protagonist reminded him too much of an ex-girlfriend he had back in college. Another individual enjoyed Person B’s writing style over Person A’s.

There’s nothing Person A can do about these reasons. It’s like asking someone if contemporary art is really art. The answer will vary according to each individual.

I’ve read novels where, if I hadn’t been in the right mood, I would have greatly disliked them. I probably would have ranted to my friends about them, because, in reality, they were horribly written. But since I was in the mood for some light fluff that would make me laugh at the ridiculousness of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed those novels.

Ask me to read them today and the answer would be “no.”

What makes a good book to you?

(Photos courtesy of Stefano CorsoRob, and David Urbanke.)

13 or Thirteen Rotten Eggs: Numbers in Fiction

We start learning rules from a young age. Say please and thank you. Tell the truth. Be respectful. As we age, we continue learning rules. Use your blinker when shifting lanes. Pay your taxes. Don’t take advantage of someone who’s drunk.

8278228668_7c12d295b0_z

Rules exist everywhere, including in fiction. When writing a novel, it’s okay to use that crazy font you find funny, as long as that font is changed before you submit your work to agents, editors, workshops, etc. The same principle applies with numbers.

This past fall I participated in a fiction workshop. It was a great experience, except I was shocked at how often I saw numerals in the text. Perhaps my scientific schooling has made numerals in fiction jump out at me, but generally numbers zero through one hundred are spelled out. Numbers over one hundred are in the numeral form.

I take this as a hard rule, as do most editors. By spelling out numbers, the visual appeal of the page increases.

Which reads better?

“The hen produced 13 rotten eggs over the past year.”

OR

“The hen produced thirteen rotten eggs over the past year.”

Chances are most of you chose the second option.

Why?

Because the writing flows smoother.

In fiction, an aspect of writing that tends to get pushed to the side is the flow of the words, sentences, and paragraphs on the page. (This is one of the reasons why it’s important to read your writing out loud during revision.) You could have a great set of characters and a wonderful plot, but if your writing keeps tossing readers out of the story, you have a problem.

Punctually and grammatically incorrect writing is like speed bumps. Readers are forced to slow down to understand the writing. If they don’t realize a road bump is coming, then they crash over the speed bump and are jolted from their seats.

No one wants that to happen.

Exceptions exist to these rules. When using a.m. or p.m., then numerals are employed. Numbers are spelled out in dialogue because dialogue equals the spoken word. Write brand names as they’re spelled. If your character visits a 7-Eleven, then 7-Eleven is written in the numeral form.

Not everyone finds editing rules important. However, editors, agents, and a good amount of readers do. If you don’t know how to write numbers properly in fiction, or for that matter format your work correctly, editors, agents, etc. are more likely to assume you don’t know what you’re doing and disregard your work. Agents, editors – heck, even some readers – are looking for reasons not to read your story. Don’t provide them a reason through something small and easy to fix. Write numbers correctly in fiction.

What do you think of editorial rules in fiction?

(Photo courtesy of Rakka.)

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

The year is almost over. A new year is about to begin. These next days before we say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015 are a time to declare resolutions for the coming year. Some will resolve to lose weight or save money, but as writers, our New Year’s goal(s) tend toward writing.

341866875_a0e8c69f1e_oHere are some common resolutions for writers:

Make time for writing (consistently).

This is easier said than done. As writers, we know what we have to do to get a novel or short story written. We have to sit down and write. But, since most of us have jobs, families, various chores and errands, pets, other interests, trying to stay fit – not to mention needing sleep – it’s easy for our writing to get pushed to the side.

However, there is time to write. We just have to realize it. Even if it’s only for fifteen minutes on some days. Set goals for yourself. Maybe try to get 250 or 500 words written a day. Or work on outlining. Writing isn’t just about getting words down on paper. It’s also about doing research for your work, outlining your story, etc. There are some days where the time I allot for writing is all research!

If you write everyday, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, you’ll find yourself accomplishing a lot more than putting off writing for a month and then spending seven hours in a writing fury. Not only will you have to remember what you’ve already written, but you’ll have to get back into your story. Both of which take up valuable time.

Finish or start your work.

Whether it’s a novel or a short story, you are determined to finish what you’ve started or begin putting that great premise down on paper. It can be frustrating to have an unfinished work laying around, but it’s easy to put off continuing working on it. The same applies for beginning a novel or short story. Why not write your goals down on a calendar or tell someone about your goals? Find a way to make yourself accountable to finish or start your work.

If you make the resolution to finish your work, that includes editing and revising. Make the work as close to perfect as you can. Then, reward yourself and work on a new goal: submission to agents.

Edit your work.

A fair amount of people think writing the novel is the hard part. That part is challenging, but what takes longer and is more demanding is revision. As the author, you get to a point in your work where it’s hard to see what needs to be improved. This doesn’t mean to stop revising. It means to get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work, unless you are one of those lucky few who can step back and look at their own writing from an objective point of view, as if they had never seen or heard of the story before.

(I only know of one person who can successfully take an objective view of his work, which is why I’m in a critique group. I don’t catch all of the little things (and the occasional plot hole) missing from my work, and I very much appreciate those people who take time to review my work. Without them, my writing wouldn’t be as clean as it is.)

Submit your work.

Don’t submit until your work is ready. It can be tempting to submit to magazines or literary agents before you’ve finished editing, or sometimes before you’ve completed the first draft, especially when most agents take at least four weeks to get back to you. Resist this feeling. By waiting until your work is ready, you have a better chance of getting accepted.

Get involved with other writers.

Be supportive. Writing isn’t easy and it tends to be solitary. Not to mention how writers tend to be harsh on themselves. I don’t know about you, but there are times where my negativity gets the better of me. The way I help overcome that? Knowing other writers, talking to them, and supporting them. I know I’m not alone with the emotions and negativity I sometimes feel, and it helps to both encourage other writers (and be genuinely happy for them when they get published) and hear other writers encourage me to continue pursuing my goal of getting published.

Call yourself a writer (and believe it).

This one seems deceptively easy. But saying, “I write,” is different than saying, “I’m a writer.” Writing is more than a hobby. If you want to get published, you have to commit, and one of the most important things you can do to help yourself commit to writing is to admit that you are a writer.

It’s a little scary to admit that, especially if you’ve never been published because you may fail and never get published. That’s something I think about a lot. One thing is certain though. If you don’t call yourself a writer – if you don’t make that commitment to writing – you will have a very difficult time being successful in your endeavors.

I’ve talked in terms of getting published. Not everyone has that goal. Regardless of whether or not you want to get published, writing takes commitment, and in order to do your best, you have to call yourself a writer. More than that, you have to believe it.

One of the best little bits of writing on writers I’ve read is from “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks. I first saw this piece on a Writer’s Digest blog (http://bit.ly/1c3L8ca) and liked it so much I thought I’d share it here:

We are lucky. Very lucky. We are writers.

Sometimes that may seem more curse than blessing, and others may not regard what we do with any more esteem or respect than mowing a lawn. To an outsider this can appear to be a hobby, or maybe a dream that eludes most.

But if that’s how they view you, they aren’t paying enough attention. If you are a writer–and you are if you actually write–you are already living the dream. Because the primary reward of writing comes from within, and you don’t need to get published or sell your screenplay to access it. …

Whatever we write, we are reaching out. We are declaring that we are not alone on this planet, and that we have something to share, something to say. Our writing survives us, even if nobody ever reads a word of it. Because we have given back, we have reflected our truth. We have mattered.

Enjoy the New Year. Embrace your resolutions. Write.

What resolutions are you making this New Year’s Eve?

(Photo courtesy of Naeema Campbell and Tim Hamilton)

Look Over Here, No Here: The Art of Commenting

Writing isn’t just about writing. Yes, that’s a huge component of it, but if you want to improve your writing skills, you have to do more than write. One way that helps is to comment on other peoples’ writing.

I’m not talking about simply stating whether you liked or didn’t like something. And I’m not telling you to edit someone else’s work, or try to improve their work based on what you’d do if their story were yours. Look at someone else’s work on its own merit. Work on figuring out what that one, individual story is trying to do.

The goal with commenting is to help create well-crafted stories. You want to help other writers improve their work, and in doing so, yours will improve. Be honest…not mean. If you say something that’s a great idea, but makes the writer defensive, your comments won’t be heard.

It’s always nice to say something positive about the work. It’s easy to get on a rant about what’s negative, and though you should be honest, you don’t want to throw the writer into a black hole. Think how’d you feel if someone was so brutally honest with you, you wanted to crawl under a rock and never see the light of day again….Not a great feeling.

There are different types of comments you can give to other writers. I’ve listed some of the areas below:

  • The View From Above. From an overall perspective, how did you feel about the story or the chapter you just finished reading? What aspects stayed with you? What were the best and worst parts?
  • Let’s Get Technical. How was the plot of the story? Of the chapter? Was there a flow from beginning to middle to end? How were the setting, dialogue, and voice? How about the point of view? Where there some parts of the story much slower than others? Was the writing too choppy or flowery? Did the structure of the story or chapter make sense?
  • The Individual Moments. Were there any specific points in the novel that delighted you (this could be a positive emotion, like overwhelming happiness, or a horrible one, like feeling as if you’d experienced a character’s loss first hand – both of these would be good scenarios)? Was there a section that made you doubt the validity of a character? Was there a part that left you wanting more or less?
  • Think About Those Sentences. How’s the sentence variety? How about the word choice? Are there some words that don’t make any sense or throw you out of the story? Is the voice active or passive? Wordy? Too dense? What about the use of figurative language?
  • Why Continue Reading? What makes you want to read on? Do you want to read on? If you’re looking at a chapter, do you have a sense of where the story’s going?

When commenting, it’s important to address different areas. You want to be thoughtful and thorough. Explain why you said what you said. If you only state what was good and what wasn’t, the author won’t know why something works and another thing doesn’t. The author won’t know how to go about changing sections that didn’t work. So take the time and explain your thoughts.

How do you go about commenting?

Watch Out! Slumps That Could Prevent You Finishing Your Novel

You’ve probably had a lot of ideas for novels. However, how many of them actually became a novel? My guess is not all of them. Most likely, most of them haven’t.

That’s not unusual, or a bad thing.

The problems begin when you find months have passed and you haven’t progressed, none of your ideas became novels, or you realize your novel is a hot mess and just stop.

Here are some things to watch for and how to fix them:

  1. The idea. You’ve got a great premise for a novel, but you don’t do any planning. The Fix: Move forward and set goals. You need to do some planning, even if it’s only a short synopsis (but it would be better to have more than that). Know your characters and the plot. You have to be familiar with what’s going to happen, so you can build up to it.
  2. The roadblock. You hit a wall and get stuck, and end up never getting back to your novel. The Fix: Don’t blindly plow through the problem. Stop writing and work on the problem itself. For example, if you’re unsure how your protagonist will react to a situation, don’t go ahead and jot down something that might be right. Take the time to figure out how your character would react. That way her reaction seems authentic.
  3. The First Draft. Great! You’ve finished your novel! You happily send it off to agents, just knowing the offers of representation are going to come pouring in. The Fix: First off, STOP. What you’ve got is a first draft. It’s not ready to be sent out. Reread, revise, give to beta readers, reread, revise, take a week or two away from it, reread, revise. It feels like a lot of work because it is. However, doing this will significantly up your chances of snagging an agent rather than if you simply sent out your first draft.

What writing slumps have you experienced? How’d you fix them?

How to Survive a Revise and Resubmit

Querying agents is usually a long process. You send out ten, fifteen queries at a time, each one crafted for a specific agent, each one checked countless times for errors. Then, you wait. And wait. Finally, you get a response.

“Thanks for thinking of me! I’m afraid this project isn’t a fit for what I am currently looking for, but I wish you the best of luck in finding a perfect home for it.”

So, you wait. And wait some more. Another response.

“Thanks so much for your query. I’d love to keep reading! Can you please send me the full manuscript?”

Whoot! You send off your manuscript. About two months later you get another e-mail from the same agent. This is where it gets interesting. The e-mail isn’t a rejection, but it’s not asking you to sign with the agent either. What it is, is an R&R, a revise and resubmit.

Yes! This means the agent likes your work enough to invest time in writing detailed notes on it. Now, don’t skim through the R&R letter and jump into making changes. This is your last chance to get this agent to sign with you.

So, what should you do if you get an R&R?

  • Send an acknowledgement e-mail. Let the agent know that you received his/her R&R. Thank them for the feedback and say you’re working on the revisions, or ask for time to think about the revisions if you’re unsure you agree with the way the agent wants to take the novel. If you say you’re going to think about the revisions, then let the agent know in a few days whether or not you’re going to tackle them.
  • Read the R&R notes multiple times. Read them when you get the e-mail, then walk away. Wait a day and read them again. On your second reading, highlight the major changes, the ones that you feel you should have thought of.
  • Re-Read the entire manuscript. Read your novel without editing. Take notes, but don’t edit. This will give you a fresh perspective, especially if you haven’t read your novel in awhile.
  • Organize. After reading your novel, take the notes you made and the R&R and compare them. Highlight the most important changes (the major ones).
  • Revise. Go through and revise. Don’t rush. Agents aren’t expecting the manuscript back in a few days. After revising, read through it again. Edit a second time.
  • Sit on it. Give your revised manuscript to a few trusted readers, while you don’t look at it for a few days.
  • Check on your revisions. Re-read your notes and the R&R. Then read your novel again. Listen to what your beta readers or critique group says. You’ve made a lot of changes so don’t go looking for obvious mistakes. Take your time. You may have missed something. You may have introduced some problems that weren’t there before. Edit. Edit again. Once you’ve done that, read the novel one last time.
  • Send. Now, send it off to the agent. No matter what happens, pat yourself on the back. An agent thought your novel was worth the time to give an R&R. Be proud, and regardless of the outcome you’ve got a stronger manuscript.

Have you been successful with a revise and resubmit?