So far I have always used third person in my own work, but I have often wondered about giving first person a go…and I read lots of both.
What’s your preference? And why?
So far I have always used third person in my own work, but I have often wondered about giving first person a go…and I read lots of both.
What’s your preference? And why?
While nothing can replace an editor, there is certainly a lot you can do yourself before it reaches a professional’s hands to get your work into shape.
And your beta readers will thank you!
I’m definitely not claiming that this is the perfect way to self-edit, nor the only way! But this is what works for me.
I am brilliant at spotting typos and editing errors in other people’s work.
I am utterly useless at spotting them in my own!
I do know a number of ‘lucky’ individuals who can spot what’s wrong in their own work…but this is not me. Once I have submerged myself in my story, I am pretty much blinded to a myriad of problems from that awkward sentence to that typo to using the wrong word!
So, I have an editing routine, and that forces me to explore my work in a way that brings the issues to the surface.
Word: I use Scrivener for writing, but I still copy and paste the manuscript into word between each round of editing.
Why do I like Word? Because Word still picks up a good number of simple defects, and if you are anything like me, you only need to look at a sentence to introduce a typo.
And it takes no more than 15-30 mins to check the whole manuscript!
Hemingway: Simple to use and cheap! I bought the desktop version, but you can use it on-line for free.
Why do I like Hemingway? It’s great for picking up passive voice, adverbs, and unnecessary words. A quick pass through Hemingway a chapter at a time clears out a lot of garbage from my work.
Grammarly: Simple to use, but with costs (monthly / quarterly / yearly subscription).
Why do I like Grammarly? It picks up an interesting set of errors that complements the Hemingway findings. For example word choice / better word pair / wrong word. I have also found it to be reasonable on grammar. I will do a more in-depth review of Grammarly in another blog post. It’s excellent for that first draft!
The high-level activities
Let’s get into the details…
I have managed to stop myself editing-as-I-go, which means the chapters can be in a pretty grim state when I start editing.
There is a temptation to jump into reading at this point. But again, I have found it more effective to get on with my editing routine. Things that are missing in the overall plot do still become apparent even without doing a whole read, BUT, I’m going to put it as an optional here as long as the first read doesn’t turn into a random editing session.
1. (Optional) Read the whole book looking for plot holes. No editing yet!
2. Search for the words and phrases on my spreadsheet. So what is my mysterious spreadsheet you might be wondering. Well, it’s a list of words and phrases I have noted to search for in my work.
For example crutch words like ‘just’.
There are over 200 different words and phrases I look for!
It’s not always a seek and destroy, some of the words or phrases just lend themselves to a poorly written sentence. Whenever I find them I can reassess that sentence and tighten it up. I’ll give you a couple more of my examples, however, I would suggest that any such ‘seek’ list is a personal list a writer builds up over time in relation to their own writing style and their own weak spots when drafting
3. Put the whole manuscript through Word. By the time I have finish hacking the sentences about it’s usually in a bit of a state and a quick 30 mins to run it through word again will help.
4. Hemingway: Chapter at a time. Looking for passive voice, unnecessary words, adverbs.
5. Grammarly: Chapter at a time. Looking for passive voice, grammar, better words, wrong words etc.
6. Word again! Because I have an amazing ability to reintroduce spaces or typos!
7. Listen using text to speech: OMG this is the absolute best for spotting those sneaky missing words or even wrong words where autocorrect has jumped in.
8. Read a chapter at a time. REPEATEDLY. And keep adjusting those awkward sentences. Until I am 90% happy. (I say 90% because otherwise I would never finish!)
9. Word again!
10. Text to speech again!
Now I can read the whole book from start to finish: By this point most (but certainly not all) errors will have gone such that I can at least read it with a level of flow. If you are anything like me there are many more iterations of reading.
And then you send it out to Beta readers.
And then you change it!
And then you edit all over again!
I do hope you found some of this useful! Happy editing 🙂
If you want to try Hemingway or Grammarly, here are the links:
A good reminder while I’m editing…Chopping this out at the moment with a bit of a heavy hand!
Ah, the dreaded expository lump, that moldering mass of minutiae, that exhausting example of authorial excreta, that soggy swamp of supercilious sentences that sends the reader straight into the Slough of Despond. (Yeesh, enough with the purple prose.)
You know what the expository lump is, of course: that paragraph or page—or worse yet, pages—in which the author stops the story to tell you everything he knows about a particular character, setting, situation, etc. His intent is good—there are things the reader needs to know—but not all of them, not right now. And not all at once.
Unfortunately, this lump, also known as an info- or data-dump, isn’t the exclusive province of the novice writer. We all risk writing it. As we get better, perhaps our lumps and dumps are shorter and a little less obvious: a sentence or two, rather than a paragraph…
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I thought I would take a little time out from my WIP to talk about writers, and more specifically their evil nature.
Now, I realise that being a writer doesn’t make you any more disposed toward a life of crime, or even being unkind because it certainly doesn’t. Although please never check a writer’s search history because you will soon be convinced we are plotting an assassination attempt and looking for ways to hide the body!
What I am talking about is conflict…because every good book needs conflict…and the only way to think up conflict is…you guessed it…to think a little evil.
Right in the very earliest stages of your novel’s development, when it is no more than a twinkling in the dark pit of your mind…there is conflict bubbling up to the surface.
Without conflict or challenge there is only a…millpond.
I’m going to let you in on a secret…nobody wants to read about a millpond because it’s BORING!
What we need is stormy seas and howling winds, and a few pure evil key plot points to screw our character’s lives up!
So, you kick off your story and you feel you have a goodly smattering of conflict going on when. …WHAM! It just pops in there, another totally evil thing you could do to your characters that will stir things up even more!
You rub your hands together in glee and immediately get down to the nefarious deed.
Barely have your characters got over that little challenge when…BAM! Oh yes, you guessed it, another nasty plot point has hatched in your very evil mind.
Are writers quintessentially evil? Do we take to writing as a way of nurturing evil thoughts that are already there? Or do we develop and hone our evil plot point radar as we write and write some more?
I guess we may never know, but one fact is very well established, a little evil thinking will go a long way to help your writing!
So your writing is flowing too fast. The spark of inspiration has set your mind ablaze and your fingers hurt from typing. Stephen King says you should write 3,000 words a day and you’re lapping him: 6,000 words a day, 9,000 words a day. You’re so prolific your beta readers feel like you’re swamping them […]
Some great reminders 🙂
This post is the tenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.
Before we get into writing your novel, I wanted to talk about two important elements – tension and pace. Understanding both of these will help you write better scenes in your story.
Tension is the element of a novel that evokes worry, anxiety, fear or stress for both the reader and the characters.
One way to think about it is you are raising the stakes for your character, so he or she has to work to get what he or she wants. And this shouldn’t be easy. Basically, you want to keep saying no to your characters so that the conflict appears unsolvable. The more at stake for your character, the more emotions he feels about situations and events.
Tension can take…
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Today I’d like to talk about sports; specifically how they can make you a better writer of genre fiction. I think most of us (and I know this is a stereotype) who write sci-fi and fantasy are much more comfortable in a library than in a gym, or more at home at a tabletop playing an RPG than on a hardtop playing basketball. I speak from experience. No one will ever mistake me for an athlete, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
Let’s face it, in genre fiction, there are a lot of sports. As Grandpa says in The Princess Bride: “Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” You get the picture. “So?” I hear you say, “How does that apply to me and my writing?” Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ll give you some examples from my life.
I played high school (American) football, so I know what it feels like to take a bone-jarring blow to the helmet. I know that smell of blood you get in the back of your sinuses when you get your bell rung. I know what it feels like to have the instep of your foot touch your inner shin (not good). I know what it’s like when opposing forces in pads (the modern equivalent of armor) crash together and try to break each other’s lines. I know how a field smells and feels different in the rain from one that is sun-scorched or nearly frozen with frost. And I know how it feels to see one of your closest friends carted off with a serious injury.
I played rugby in college, so I know what a femur sounds like when it snaps in half (a gunshot is a close approximation), and how the scream afterward is even worse. I know what it feels like to have your shoulder torn out of the socket. I know what my lungs and legs feel like when they’ve got nothing left to give, but somehow find a way to run one more sprint and pile into one more scrum. I know how thirty alpha-males act when they try to kill each other for an hour, and then party like brothers until the dawn (I will go to my grave believing that the spirit of the Viking raid lives on in modern times as a visiting rugby club).
I also took karate and kickboxing in college, and wrestled in high school, so I know what it’s like to grapple with another human being in close quarters, smelling their breath and their unfamiliar scent as they try to hurt or defeat you. I know what it feels like (because I didn’t make weight that week) to wrestle a giant. I know what it feels like to get hit so hard that you can’t breathe and your vision goes dark and hazy. I know how it feels to throw so many punches that you wonder who’s really taking the worst of the bout.
I am into target shooting, so I know that a real gunshot is RIDICULOUSLY louder than on TV and the movies. I know what burnt gunpowder smells like. I know that after a day at the range (or, one can imagine, a lengthy battle) your hands are black with burnt powder. I know that when an ejected brass casing hits your skin it feels like someone trying to put a cigarette out on you (or so I imagine – thankfully, that is one thing I have not experienced). I know how a gun can malfunction in different ways, and how to safely fix the problem. I know that real gun experts are never nonchalant with weapons, no matter how “cool” they might be.
So you see, sports can lend a level of verisimilitude to your writing that it might otherwise lack. Even if you just go for a walk or a hike until you can’t take one more step, that’s useful information you can draw on the next time you write about a long and arduous journey. Do as many pushups as you can until you want to puke, then you’ll get a sense of what your character is feeling when she is pushed to her physical limits. Run as fast as you can for as far as you can, and maybe you can use that when you write about your characters fleeing the alien invasion. And if you go out for a team, you might make it, and then you’ll learn about the camaraderie and fellowship of folks who push themselves and each other to be their best. That certainly can’t hurt, right?
So yeah, sports.
Jason J. McCuiston was born in the wilds of southeast Tennessee, where he was raised on a healthy diet of old horror movies (both classic and of the B variety), westerns and war movies, comic books and old pulp magazines, sci-fi and fantasy novels, and, yes, Dungeons & Dragons. He attended the finest state school that would have him where he studied art before coming to grips with the hard truth that his heart just wasn’t in illustrating other folks’ stories. Following his matriculation, he embarked on a whirlwind tour of underpaid and uninspired career paths until finally realizing that all his forays into role-playing games, comic books, and creative design were merely the manifestation of his innate desire to be a storyteller.
So for the next twenty-odd years, he slogged his way through the jungles of terribly amateurish prose, waded the never-ending streams of form rejections, navigated through the cyclopean obelisks of scathing (yet often constructive) criticisms, and finally climbed the daunting peaks of Personal Growth, Craft, and Skill in search of his goal: the fabled Shangri La of becoming a published and prolific author of speculative adventures.
He can be found on the internet at:
His story, “The Wyvern” can be found in Pole to Pole Publishing’s new anthology, Dark Luminous Wings. It is a post-apocalyptic steampunk horror story set in the skies above a Mojave Desert filled with magic and dark memories.
His first published story, “The Last Red Lantern” can still be found in Parsec Ink’s Triangulation: Appetites anthology.
I am a big fan of protagonists with dubious character traits. There is something about a blurry line that adds flavour and depth. In fact, if the protagonist was to stop and consider themselves, they might think they were on the wrong side of that invisible virtuous line.
So in short, I like my protagonists…to be bad.
Why is a less than perfect protagonist good?
If you are the kind of person who goes to the gym 5 days a week, then going 5 days a week is no big thing. BUT, if you struggle to go once a week, then 5 days in a row is pretty impressive! And so with our protagonist. The more reluctant they are, and the more doing something good or heroic chafes, the more interesting it is when they are finally forced to comply.
As a reader, the more confused you are about the protagonists virtue, the more the tension grows. Will they do the right thing? Are they capable of doing the right thing even? Or are they just too damn lazy?
And what about our antagonist? Are they wholly bad? Or do they have redeeming qualities? Do you empathise with them at any point in the book? Perhaps their behaviour has been abhorrent, and then you discover a terrible secret about their past that casts new questions onto everything they have so far done.
There is a certain fascination with a good guy who is not completely good.
And likewise with a bad guy who is not completely bad.
One of my favourite things about being a writer (and about writers collectively) is our constant quest for growth. The desire that grips us all to learn and improve our craft.
One of the best ways a writer can grow, learn and improve is by receiving genuine feedback on their writing. While we all love the positive feedback, we learn the most from the constructive kind.
Sometimes when I look back at my old scribbles from ten years ago, I shake my head and wonder at my writing. Then I stop and realise how far my writing has come, and I look back on those old scribbles just a little bit more fondly. The only benchmark a writer should measure themselves against is their own, and however we improve, whether through beta-reader feedback, taking a course, or by reading about writing style, it can take many weeks, months, or even years for those improvements to show in our work.
So if you have been writing for a long while, or even a little while, go and have a peek back at some of the first things your wrote. You might be surprised by just how much you have improved, but you might also be pleasantly surprised that those old scribbles (while not perfect) are actually quite good.
Happy writing 🙂