They Did What?!

I [truly] applaud new writers’ enthusiasm for their newfound craft—it’s wonderful.  What I’d love to see approached with the same passion?   Editing.  Not just in terms of checking spelling and facts, and getting true/historical places and events correct, but re logistics and layouts … and “ability/capability”.

If Reggie just climbed into his Benz, how come he’s suddenly talking to the passenger from the outside?  If Lina stepped into the hallway, how did she end up [back in] the auditorium?  If Flavio grabbed Margie’s hand, why is he reaching for in the next paragraph?

think:  crisp and clean

How is Karen able to curve her mouth in response to Ned’s merry greeting?  How does someone wrinkle his/her eyes in reply to a flippant comment?  I’d love to know how Barry spun his head to view his girlfriend’s approach (sounds painful to me).  And Val’s eyes bouncing across the room—ouch, poor Val! 

think:  reasonableness and plausibility

Does it really matter that Zoey reached for the doorknob, turned it slowly, opened the door, stepped in, turned on the light, and peered around the empty room?  Do we need to know that Edwin was still looking apprehensive, so Anna extended a hand and touched his face, and he leaned his face into her palm, laying his own hand over it? 

think:  brevity is often better/best

Does everyone wear cotton?  How about mocha-brown suits?  Blue ties?  Do they all drink red wine?  Characters, like real-life people, should have diverse interests and beliefs, and be different.  They don’t all smile or grab hands.  Not everyone likes to play kissy-face.  And some folks are simply not nice.

think:  repetition = tedium

As writers, we want to pull in our readers as soon as possible and we want to keep them interested, so that they read [eagerly] to the end.  Providing unnecessary or repetitive details wears thin very quickly.  Mentioning certain facts/factors and then, later, not referring to them again—as in loose ends not being tied up—is also a faux pas.  Don’t get readers excited about a [potential] storyline or plot twist, then leave them dangling!

think:  short and sweet

Yes, it’s extra work, but having an outline is a very good thing.  Point-form is fine.  List plot surprises, incidents and events, and outstanding occurrences that should be returned to (tied up).  Refer to the outline, and often.

Remember, the final product is a reflection of you, the author.  Make it the best it can be! 

The Grand Opening . . .

. . . of a book should reel the reader right in!   You/we don’t want the “it was a dark and stormy night” start, so it’s been often stated.  And correctly so.

That said, though, dark and stormy nights do have the ability to provide a few frissons, if depicted with the right details . . .

It was a darkly ominous night, filled with strident thunderclaps and blinding lightning, as Edoardo rode along the overflowing stream.  His quest was simple: kill the escaped convicts who’d burned down his farmstead and slew Olivia.

The example above gives the reader a pretty good indication of what the plot’s about and what will [likely] transpire.  The mood is menacing: a potentially dangerous storm, purposely (spitefully) destroyed farm, murdered woman (wife/lover), evil fugitives, and vengeful man.  Perhaps he’s the protagonist—hero—perhaps not.  The reader has to continue to discover who he is.

A powerful plot requires a powerful opening, and winning storyline.  Make sure that happens from the get-go.

Details and descriptions should be . . . detailed and descriptive.   Consider the examples below, A versus B.

A   The gang rode quickly across the corn field, toward the hills.

B   The dogged gang, anxious to lose the persistent posse, drove their weary horses across the withered corn field, toward the tree-lined hills.

Characters should be distinct; they have habits, traits, favorite expressions, accents perhaps.  They don’t all sport blond hair or blue eyes.  Characters are different sizes and shapes . . . have varying purposes/pursuits . . . come from diverse backgrounds.  Just like in real life.

John’s blue eyes looked into her gray ones.  “How’s it goin’?”

“It’s goin’ great,” she said, looking into his eyes.

Uh . . . yawn.  Not everyone speaks the same.  How about:

John’s sapphire-blue eyes peered searchingly into her ash-gray ones.  “How are you doing today, my pet?”

“I’m doin’ pretty good,” she replied, not quite meeting his gaze.

But I digress . . . a little.  These suggestions are something to bear in mind when penning that opening.  You don’t want it to be flat, but stirring.  Remember: reel . . . in . . . the . . . reader . . . right . . . away.

That first sentence/paragraph should not only introduce the plot and character(s), and establish a mood, but also present you—the writer, and your style.  Determine your voice and maintain it.  Readers will often read the first page to determine if they will purchase the book; ensure they do by offering the best [most dynamic] writing you can.

How often can I stress the importance of that opening sentence/paragraph?  Not enough.   And one last thing I’m also going to stress—make certain that dynamic opening carries throughout the book.

Pique the reader’s interest and keep it.

The Awesome Realm of Adverbs & Adjectives

Adding adverbs and adjectives—not in overabundance, but within reason—enables readers to more readily visualize the action and characters.  They detract from the flatness of the “he said” and “she said” dialogue tags, and the “she walked across the room” and “he looked at her” type of sentences.

Consider the examples below.  With the addition of an adverb or adjective, or two, don’t they offer more “images” into what is transpiring, how someone is feeling?

“I’m visiting Darren later,” Martha said with a smile.

1.    “I’m visiting Darren later,” Martha smiled sunnily.

2.    “I’m visiting Darren later,” Martha smiled darkly.

3.    “I’m visiting Darren later,” Martha said flatly with a fleeting smile.

4.    “I’m visiting Darren later.” Martha offered a patient smile.

Example 1 suggests Martha’s happy, looking forward to seeing Darren while example 2 says she’s not happy to be doing so.  In the third one, Martha seems uncommitted; she doesn’t really care one way or the other and the fourth indicates a number of things, but more than likely, she doesn’t care for the question and doesn’t want to give a detailed answer, or she’s heard the question before and is repeating the response.  It’s all in the interpretation.

Jeremy looked at Doris and smiled.

1.    Jeremy eyed Doris closely and smiled warmly.

2.    Jeremy scanned Doris from head to foot and offered a flat smile.

3.    Jeremy regarded Doris for several seconds, then smiled fleetingly.

4.    Jeremy stared at Doris with a cool smile.

Example 1 suggests Jeremy likes what he sees, or is pleased with Doris’ reaction, and responds accordingly.  The second example tells us Jeremy isn’t overly pleased with her and the third one has a similar connotation.  Example 4 implies he’s annoyed with Doris, or is angry perhaps.  Again, it’s all in the interpretation.

Just how many ways can we smile?

happily bleakly angrily stoically sadly
cheerfully merrily bittersweetly patiently peevishly
dully smugly blissfully thankfully grimly

And what type of smile might we provide?

happy bleak angry stoic sad
cheerful merry bittersweet patient dull
impatient enthusiastic blissful thankful grim

Just how many ways might a character have “said” something?

cheerfully slowly aloofly frostily eagerly
uncaringly warmly morosely earnestly pointedly
quickly harshly easily callously kindly

The sky’s the limit.  Choose the right adverb/adjective for the situation and action—right as in mood/feeling and in meaning (it’s amazing—and not in a good way—how many people seem to pull a word from the thesaurus without checking its definition).  As I always say, be as professional as possible.

Adverbs and adjectives can truly add so much to a story . . . as long as the writer doesn’t add too much, as in too many.

Remember: everything in moderation.

He/She/It . . . Did . . . Again?

Show, don’t tell is a pretty common expression when it come to the world of writing.  Good “advice”.  Too bad not all [new] writers embrace it. 

Sally looked down the trail and then started walking along it.  She was tired of walking.  She saw a stream.  She got onto her knees and dipped her hands in the cool water.  She cupped some water and sipped thirstily.  When she had her fill, she stood up and looked northward.  She then walked along the trail toward the hills. 

A lot of “she” did something, but nothing terribly descriptive or detailed is presented.  It’s pretty flat and wouldn’t entice a reader to continue reading, unless said reader was using the book as bedtime reading (to prompt a few quick zzzzzs).

Not that you should add copious amounts of details—that could become equally annoying and lend itself to a different degree of dullness. 

Pretty, young Sally looked anxiously down the winding, dusty trail that went for as far as the eye could see, and then started walking quickly along its narrow, pebble-filled path.  She was tired of walking and having to keep a watchful eye.  She saw a curving, burbling stream about twenty yards ahead and left the trail to walk along the prickly plants and high weeds and wizened shrubs.  She got onto her jean-covered knees and dipped her dry, scratched hands in the cool rippling water.  She cupped some refreshing-looking water and sipped thirstily.  When she had her fill, and felt better, she stood up and looked northward toward the small, tree-lined hills.  She then walked returned to the welcome, winding trail and headed toward the beckoning hills. 

More description and details provide more visuals—but be mindful of how much is added and whether it’s truly useful.  Does it enhance the story/plot/action?  Does it create clear pictures, deliver snapshots?

Sally’s pretty face creased with worry when she reached an endless, winding trail.  May as well go for it, she decided.  Quickly yet cautiously, she picked her way along the pebble-filled path.  Twenty yards ahead burbled a serpentine stream lined with prickly plants, tall weeds and wizened shrubs.  Dropping to her knees, her scratched hands cupped cool water.  She drank deeply and when her thirst finally eased, she stood.  Brushing dust and grit from her worn, dirty jeans, she returned to the trail, determined to head northward—to the beckoning tree-dense hills in the not-too-far distance. 

Somewhat better . . .yes?  Writing a book with “she did”, “he did”, “it did” as the frequent action is rather like characters having “said” something 10-15 times on one page.  Uneventful.  Static.  Uninspiring. 

Editing/proofing isn’t fun for most people (I get that), but it is a necessity.  Take some time to read aloud what’s gracing the screen.  Does it sound good?  Honestly good?  Writers’ egos are fragile things (this I can attest to) and, perhaps, there’s a fear factor involved when it comes to correcting material, be it by someone else or oneself. 

But consider this: one doesn’t perfect one’s craft if one isn’t willing to question and challenge, and develop it.

Where do I Put it?

Of late, I’ve been receiving manuscripts for editing with the same issue: misplaced punctuation in dialogue.  It’s like . . . uh, I’m not sure where to put it, so maybe I’ll just throw it there.  Looks good.  I’m good.

I like the exuberance I sense in people’s stories; it spills across the page/screen like an overflowing spring stream.  I don’t so much like that little time has been applied to give their [good] stories the proper editing/proofreading they require.  It seems that some just type, type, type and never return to reread what’s been written.  It’d be great to see the aforementioned exuberance applied—just a wee bit—to the “final product”. 

So, my dear friends and fellow writers, here’s some quick guidance on how to punctuate dialogue in North America.  Notice the placement of commas, periods, and other punctuation marks.

♦  “Say, what’s happening over there?”

♦  “Please stop making all that noise,” she said with a roll of the eyes, “and get ready for dinner.”

♦  “Hold on!”

♦  “Hey, what’s up?”  With a grin, Glenn raced over to the group.

Anything within quotation marks is separate from the rest of the sentence.  Use capitals for full-sentence dialogue/quotes.

When closing a quotation, ensure the period or comma falls within the quotation, not outside.

Utilize commas to introduce text, except when using “that”.

♦  With a shake of her head, Reena said, “It’s not good, John.  You’ll never get away with it.)

♦  Jake told us that “I’ve given up smoking once and for all, really and truly.”

When using a dialogue tag, you would use a comma before the closing quotation marks.

♦  “It’s gorgeous out today,” Jerry declared with a grin.

Dialogue tags, by the way, aren’t necessary if it’s obvious who is speaking.  So, per a couple of previous posts, please don’t feel that you need to add “she said”, “he said”, “Margaret said”, “Wilber said” every time a character speaks; readers can figure it out.  Really.

Don’t leave out punctuation that adds dimension to a sentence, like a question mark or exclamation point.

♦  “Don’t worry about it,” he said.

♦  “Don’t worry about it!” he said. 

The second one conveys more emotion, don’t you think?

Often, question marks, exclamation points, and em dashes fall within closing quotation marks—often, but not always.  It depends on the connotation.

♦  Here’s to Edgar, touted “the most likely to succeed”!

♦  Floyd declared, “I’ll win that award, no matter what”—and proceeded to immerse himself in the pursuit.

And single quotes?  Employ them within double quotation marks to denote quoted text within dialogue.

♦  Roger scratched his head and asked, “Was it Shakespeare who said ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ or someone else?”

♦  “Barry said, ‘I’m a real winner’.” 

Don’t forget that a new paragraph is required every time the character/speaker changes.  This will help define who is speaking and what is transpiring.  It also means dialogue tags can be kept to a minimum (and we like that).

One thing some writers seem to forget to do: search for rules.  Don’t take a stab (guessing) at what punctuation should be added to dialogue—and where.  Don’t place it wherever the mood (guess) strikes.  Look . . . it . . . up.  In other words, look . . . professional.  Even if there’s an editor down the road, it never hurts to learn something new . . . does it? <wink>

I Said . . . so Did He . . . and so Did She

I’ve posted on this one at least a couple of times over the last two years—the enthusiastic over-use of “said” in fiction writing.

It seems common in manuscripts by new(er) writers, so I felt compelled (once again) to review why using “said” with zealous abundance might not be in the writer’s, or reader’s, interest.  Literally.

“Yes, sir,” Malcom said with a nod.  “I’ll report my findings as soon as possible.”

“You’d better,” she said.  “And make sure you share them with Winters too.”

“I’ll do that,” he said.

She sighed and said, “Don’t forget to call after the meeting later; I need to know what’s transpired.”

“Yes, Mary-Anne,” he said and disconnected just as his executive assistant, Lee, entered.

“Looks like it’s gonna be a long day,” Lee said as he placed a folder on Malcolm’s desk.

“You said it,” Malcolm said with a sigh.

I’ve seen a lot of manuscripts that flow like this . . . as flat as flapjacks.  There’s no need to always state that a character said something.  Dialogue can stand on its own a lot of the time.  Readers are pretty smart and can gather who is speaking from the action and details.

This isn’t to say that “said” shouldn’t be used.  By all means, utilize it, but with a critical eye, and ear.  It serves a [valid] purpose, but it’s not always a terribly exciting word and, sometimes, dialogue needs more, particularly in a tense or action-fraught scene.

Do you think people will have “said” something when a bomb is about to detonate or a giant lizard is about to eat a bunch of tourists?  I suspect people would more likely have “declared”, “shouted”, “screamed”, “shrieked”, “commanded”, “cried”, or “bellowed”, to name but a few more thrilling and descriptive words.

Can’t you imagine Bob’s face as he shrieks a command to a fear-frozen coworker, as opposed to says?  Shriek, to me, suggests his face would be tense, his brow creased, his lips tight, his throat dry; maybe he’d be gesticulating or taking action as he shrills.  Say, to me, evokes an image of an unemotional face, someone who’s non-reactive.

How about we take the previous example and “activate” it a bit?

“Yes, sir,” Malcom promised with a quick nod and roll of the eyes.  “I’ll report my findings as soon as possible.”

“You’d better,” she advised with a hint of a threat in the tone.  “And make sure you share them with Winters too.”

He swallowed heavily and jabbed the pen into the edge of the desk.  “I’ll do that.”

She sighed loudly.  “Don’t forget to call after the meeting later; I need to know what’s transpired.”

“Yes, Mary-Anne.”  He disconnected just as his executive assistant, Lee, entered.

“Looks like it’s gonna be a long day,” Lee commented with a dry smile as he placed a folder on Malcolm’s desk.

“You said it,” Malcolm muttered, rubbing his temples.

It’s not an exciting scene to begin with, but we can make it a little more interesting or add a little more tension.  Always give thought as to how you can create more gripping or dynamic dialogue and scenes.  Pull those readers in; don’t make their eyelids droop from fatigue.

It’s difficult getting started on that first story, be it a short one or a novel.  There are many things to learn and apply.  It all comes with time and practice.  And that’s okay.  We all have a learning curve.

Churning something out, however, without reviewing, proofing, or editing, is something to avoid.  Per a previous post on this blog: there’s no need to be “perfect”, but do aspire to be the best that you can be.

I’m fairly sure, of the many manuscripts I’ve edited thus far, most haven’t read their final drafts aloud.  Do so.  This may sound daft but, trust me, it’s a worthwhile endeavor and it really doesn’t take that long.  You’ll be amazed what you will “hear” and pick up.

Hope what I “said” makes sense.

Which Word Works?

This week I felt compelled to review word usage in fiction writing (or any writing, for that matter).  The right word conveys the right emotion, message, action.

New writers sometimes feel a need to use words or phrases (and I’ve been there, I readily admit) to impress, or seem more “worldly” perhaps.  Occasionally, when editing, I come across ones that I’ve never seen before!  Wow, how impressive indeed—into the dictionary I delve!

Don’t aim for impressive; go for impression, the [desired] effect you produce in the mind of your readers.

At times, the selected word works, at times, not.  So, why was it chosen?  Because it sounded good?  Not a valid reason, my friends.  Because it’s popular?  Not a valid reason, my friends.  Because you really want to demonstrate how grand your vocabulary is?  Not a valid reason, my friends.

Upon hearing the news of her death, sadness flowed through him.

Upon hearing the news of her death, ruefulness flowed through him.

Upon hearing the news of her death, dispiritedness flowed through him.

Upon hearing the news of her death, forlornness flowed through him.

The bolded words share a similar meaning (to a degree) yet are not the same.

sadness:  causing, showing or expressing unhappiness or sorrow

ruefulness:  causing, showing or expressing unhappiness or regret

dispiritedness:  a feeling of low spirits

forlornness:  sad or lonely, chiefly from being abandoned or forsaken

Utilize the word the best works for the dialogue, action, scene—and not because a “bigger” word seems “better”.  Ensure the word or phrase is appropriate to the circumstance(s).  And if you want to use a new word, go for it, but check the definition.  Is it accurate for what is being written/conveyed?  Remember: the dictionary is our friend.

They say short and sweet is best, and that can hold true for words.  Sometimes, the clearest, most persuasive word is the shortest one.

And, if you’re writing a historical novel, think about how your characters speak—modern-day phrases and expressions really don’t have a place here, unless time travel is involved.

The same holds true of speech/dialogue.  Someone of royal blood or a person in a governmental position would not likely use “gonna” or “wanna”; he or she would speak with more precision and professionalism.  Moreover, characters—like everyday persons—would speak differently and employ unique phrases or expressions.  Contractions may or may not be used, given who the person is and where he or she hails from.

Example:

The minister looked as his assistant.  “Bro, like I was tellin’ ya, I was wondering if we’re gonna like the proposals Major Martyn will propose, ya know?  I heard he’s kinda odd when it comes to—”

“No worries, sir, I’m sure you’re gonna like them just fine,” his assistant said.

How about something like:

The minister regarded Lester, his assistant, closely.  “I wonder if Major Martyn’s proposals will be practical.  I’ve heard he’s rather odd when it comes to—”

“No worries, sir,” Lester interrupted with an amiable smile.  “I’m sure you’ll find them appropriate.”

Incorrect word choices (or arrangements) can result in clumsiness, vagueness, and/or ambiguity.

Example of incorrect word usage:

“George, from here on in we will live our life together, don’t you think that’s awesome?  We can rely on each other, my honey-bun,” Margaret derailed George’s train of thought, like she knew precisely what he was so totally enthralled with.

Example of better word usage:

With a patient smile, Margaret derailed George’s train of thought.  “Going forward we’ll live our lives together.  We’ll have each other to rely on.  That’s amazing, don’t you agree?”

Avoid misusing words; again, check the definition if you’re not quite sure.  Make certain the context is correct.

Keep an eye on jargon, too.  It may work for a character or two, but it may not for others, and it may not work in descriptive sections.  Clichés can be appealing, at times, in the right situations, but they can also prove trite if not silly, so use them wisely.

Say what needs saying, and don’t “over-stuff”; you only need so many feathers for a comfy cushion.  Wordiness, unlike a dictionary, is not our friend.

ClipartKeydotcomABCaIn summation:  ♦  be careful when utilizing a word that’s unfamiliar  ♦  use a dictionary if you use a thesaurus, to be certain the new word you want to use is the right one  ♦  do not write to impress or sound like you know it all  ♦  watch for repetition (have you used the same word/phrase too many times?).

Reading aloud helps . . . really.  Try it.  See if it doesn’t help you with your word selection.  If something doesn’t sound good to your ears, it probably needs reworking.

This could easily be a five-page post because there’s so much to advise re word usage, but no one wants to plow through a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnng post, so here you have the main food-for-thought points.  I hope they help.

On that note, I bid you a short and simple adieu.

The End of the Beginning

Yee-ha!  Finished “HA-HA-HA-HA” . . . well, the first draft anyway.  For me, this has been—wow—over a year in the making.  Time to celebrate?  Maybe.  A little.

WPwineIf you’ve finished your manuscript, congrats.  Not an easy feat (not unless you’re a prolific writer who can put something together in a wink and a blink).  So, what now?  Have a celebratory glass of wine or cup of tea?  Why not?  Go for it.  Give yourself a [well-deserved] pat on the back?  For sure—you deserve it, so give yourself two.  Take a breather?  Most definitely!

“The End” truly isn’t the end, not when it’s only the first draft.  After that, you have to begin on the revamping, the refining.  You want your manuscript to be submission perfect, so make certain your “product” is good enough to send out to publishers, agents (if you’re planning on pursuing the traditional publishing route), acquisition editors, and the like.

I’ve undoubtedly touched upon the following in past, but a review is always worthwhile—for you and me.

Take the aforementioned breather—a few days isn’t enough, truly, so aim for a few weeks, even a month or, better yet, two.  I know, this seems like a forever when you’re excited about your manuscript and want to get it out there.  But you must step away to view/review your work with objectivity.  You’ve been living with the story for some time and need fresh eyes to see what’s what (what works and what doesn’t): you can only do that when you’ve stepped away for a decent period of time.

Once that breather has breathed enough, pick up that manuscript and read it all the way through before proofing/editing.  Get a feel for how it flows, what makes sense, what stands out (as in amiss or incorrect, or makes you scratch your head).  Now that you’ve got an idea of what requires doing, fix the critical items first—scenes that don’t work, plot holes, character inconsistencies.  Once you’ve got those smoothed over, begin the edit.  Take your time.

Second edit done?  Edit more—or refine, as the case may be.  Once completed, get feedback/input.  Receiving it from family and friends is okay (but how objective are they really going to be?).  Aim for writing communities and groups and beta readers.  See what others have to say but take their advice with a grain of salt; it may make [a lot of] sense, it may not.  Give the feedback serious—and non-subjective thought—and apply as you deem fit.

If you don’t yet have a social-media/on-line presence, create one.  You want people to know about your book and you, the writer.  How about a blog?  Promote your book—and yourself—there.  Spark interest.

I digressed a bit, because social media and the like is a whole other kettle of fish (and I’ve posted about this before).  Really, the whole point about “The End” is that there’s a beginning . . . which leads to it being final, faultless/flawless, and fabulous.

With that, I’m off to take a few breaths . . . hmm, just how many are there in a month?

Any Secrets to Editing a Short Story?

Not that I know of.  <LOL>  It’s JJ today.

Editing a short story is the same as editing a long one; you’re looking for, and correcting, the same issues.  And, before you ask or Rey blows me another [raucous] raspberry, yes, I have the qualifications.  As a former weather announcer who also produced community specials, I did a lot of writing which, of course, included a lot of editing.  And narrating our private-eye exploits isn’t done before thorough proofing/correcting.  (Ugh.  That just earned me another raspberry.)

So, before we visit Rey’s Full Moon over Plymouth, let’s summarize Linda’s guidelines on how to write a solid short story two posts past:

♦  make certain you know the [short story] genre; understand the perimeters

♦  present a conflict or complication, a quest or mission from the get-go; create interest immediately

♦  make sure your main character has just that: character

♦  ensure your “plot” is fresh and maintains readers’ interest; be imaginative/creative

♦  appeal to your readers’ emotions . . . and have your characters convey them, which will give them depth and make them likable (or unlikable, as the case may be)

♦  present a dynamic ending; it, like the opening, has to transpire quickly so bring adequate closure (even if you leave readers dangling).

And, with that, Editor JJ will comment on Cousin Reynalda’s short Full Moon over Plymouth paragraph by paragraph (and if she blows any more of those, I’ll have to fetch an umbrella).

Gisele Cooper stood ramrod straight as she steadily held the Luger and tracked Marshall Willis, the serial killer who had terrorized the New England coast for eight months now.  To the point and sets the mood.  Could have used a bit more description.  Something like: “Pretty P.I. Gisele Cooper, stood ramrod straight as she eyed the rural Massachusetts darkness . . .”

It was a cool early November evening and the pretty private eye was pumped.  She’d catch “Wicked Willis” if it was the last thing she’d do.  He’d dodged the cops, media, fellow private investigators, and her.  Enough was enough.  Not bad.  Gives readers a sense of time as well as purpose.

Willis, an average-looking guy of average height and average build, had bayoneted twelve men—that they knew of.  And they’d not have know it was Willis if there hadn’t been a witness.  Typo.  Slap on hand (playfully, of course) to Rey.  That is exactly why we proof/edit. 

Amos, a frisky Staffordshire Bull Terrier, had been at the last killing and had managed to take a bite out of the murderer’s arm as he plunged the knife, which was fitted into the end of an old musket.  Lucky Amos got away fast—with the weapon, no less!  Amos’ owner called the police and the rest, as the saying went, was history.  A little awkward sounding.  Might have approached it differently.  But the action/excitement is there.

At thirty-four, Gisele didn’t have many years of experience.  Just four.  But she had instinct and chutzpah and knew how to swing a mean left hook and wield a weapon.  Good.  A little insight into our heroine.  Might have moved this closer to the opening, though.

She’d gotten involved with this case—if she could call it that—when Harvey, a detective she sometimes dated, was assigned as the lead investigator.  After dinner and drinks, and nookie, he’d share updates, knowing she’d not divulge anything she’d heard.  Seems a bit flat.

So, here she was, trailing a nutbar after following a tip that Willis was living in a two-room shack somewhere along the Eel River.  She’d missed him by seconds.  The hot coffee mug and bitten egg sandwich told her that.  And the partially open rear door said he’d left that way.  So did the footprints in the soft drizzle-dense soil, visible courtesy of the camping lamp on a cheap plastic stand alongside the door.  I’d like a little more detail to give it more depth, excitement.  Something like . . . “She’d missed him by seconds—verified by the chipped hot coffee mug featuring a pirate’s visage and half-eaten egg sandwich that oozed ketchup like a gunned down doe.”

“You’re not escaping me, my friend,” she murmured into the breezeless night.  Wouldn’t she be more determined, more angry?  How about “she hissed”?

There was a mini flashlight in her leather bomber jacket pocket, but she had no intention of letting him, or anyone else, view her from afar.  Not sure if this is worth mentioning.

Willis hadn’t been on anyone’s radar.  The average man of twenty-four had been an average student and held an average job since finishing high school.  Nothing in his past screamed “serial-killer material”.  But once Amos had provided “evidence” and they’d narrowed down the possibilities, they’d zeroed in on Marshall Willis.  I might have detailed this a bit more.  (Sorry Rey.)

Gisele tossed her long blonde waves and surveyed the length of the sparkling river.  The stars and a full moon danced upon it.  Pretty, she thought, worth visiting one day under different circumstances.  Maybe with Harvey?  I’d add something like . . . “Maybe with Harvey?  She smirked and shook her head.  Focus, girl, focus.”

She stopped.  Had she noticed movement among the dense foliage?  No, it was a feral cat, that was all.  She laughed anxiously as she watched it scamper from view.  Nice.

That cost her.  Almost.  A swisssshhhhhhh from behind prompted her to duck and whirl.  The bayonet sliced the air instead of herPerfect.

“Damn, I missed.  Too bad,” Willis chortled.  “But I won’t this time.”  A little more dialogue and drama would be good.

Without thought, Gisele swung up and out, and caught him under the chin with the Luger.  The she swung again and caught him on the temple.  Before he could react or retreat, she had him on his belly and handcuffed.  Works for me.

“Gotcha.”  Necessary?

As if conveying approval, mockingbirds sang in unison.  Gisele bowed in acknowledgement and hauled Willis to his average-sized feet.  Nice touch with the mockingbirds.  I might have added a few other animals or sounds.

All in all, I agree with Linda’s A+ for effort.  As a short, it has its moments—a bit of tension, history, a dramatic opening (a dangerous mission) and an equally dramatic ending with an outcome.

Oh-oh.  That expression tells me my cousin’s not amused.  Better get that umbrella; I sense a glut of those contemptuous sounds coming my way.

It’s All About Almost

I’m giving the gals, particularly ever-enthusiastic Rey, a break from posting.  Given I haven’t touched upon editing recently, maybe it’s time to do so again.

In my editing travels, I’ve discovered that “about” and “almost” are two frequently overused words.  New writers, in particular, seem to adore them.  An abundance of these two words, however, is not always in the story’s—or writer’s—favor.

Both certainly serve viable purposes, but they can also be weak words that lend themselves to a flat storyline.

About (adverb, preposition)

It’s about time you showed up.  ♠  designates anger or impatience

He was about ready to explode.  ♠  doesn’t add anything

The story is about a teacher and his class.  ♠  yes, okay, doable

The childhood story reveals how a well-loved teacher encourages his keen, young students.  ♠  a little more dynamic . . . maybe?

Almost (adverb)

I’ve almost had it with him.  ♠  designates anger or impatience

Jason was almost scared.  ♠  was he or wasn’t he?

It’s almost noon.  ♠  okay, but stating it’s five minutes before noon is more specific

The thief wavered and almost climbed back down.  ♠  did he or didn’t he?  (hopefully, the next sentence/paragraph will provide more information)

The detective shot the culprit in the head; he died almost instantly.  ♠  the suggestion is he lingered (perhaps something [eventful] transpired in that second or two?)

WPget2An assessing ear helps: yours.  Read each sentence aloud.  Listen.  Attentively.  Do they work—are they stronger or weaker for adding “about” or “almost”?  Would they keep the reader interested?  Or might they create a “zzzzz” effect?

She was almost fearful of what might happen.  ♠  ech

She had a fearful look on her face.  ♠  okay, but not very dynamic

Fear flickered in her sapphire-blue eyes.  ♠  more descriptive, more visual

Words make [and sometimes break] your writing.  Be specific.  Be detailed, but don’t go overboard.  Take a simple sentence and build on it.  A high-rise is fine; there’s no need to go for a skyscraper.

♠  Detective Smith looked up at her partner and almost smiled when he was about to pass her a coffee.

♠  Detective Smith smiled cheerfully as she accepted the mug of steaming coffee from her chuckling partner.

♠  Detective Smith’s fern-green eyes glistened as a cheerful smile pulled at her glossy lips; she accepted the huge mug of steaming Kona coffee from her grinning partner, Jack Blake.

♠  A cheerful smile played upon young Detective Smith’s sensual . . .

. . . and on it goes.  You determine how descriptive you want to be.

Envision your story, characters, and events.  Paint a vivid picture.  Make the action come alive.  Don’t just reel those readers in . . . yank them!   

As said, “about” and “almost” serve their purpose, but you have to recognize when they do and when they simply serve as unnecessary [snoozy] padding.

Martyn was about to learn what the impact would be.    ♠     Martyn listened intently to hear what the impact would be.    ♠     Martyn perused the multi-paged report to ascertain what the financial impact would be.

Helena took note at the way everyone was seated, almost confused at the seating arrangements.    ♠     Confused, Helena observed how everyone was seated at the bare dining table.  Who’d decided that?

It’s not about almost accomplishing an outcome; it’s making it happen.  You can do it.  It’s merely a matter of application mixed with perseverance and determination.  Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day . . . great writing takes time to realize.

It’s almost the weekend and I’m almost certain you’re about to have an awesome one.  I certainly almost am.  Cheers.