Talk to Me, Too/2

The intention of providing short posts—snippets of advice—has gone [as an acquaintance often says] kablooey.  <LOL>  It seems when it comes to editing, there’s much to share.  As such, I’m thinking to be true to the goal, maybe I’ll simply provide more posts on certain topics—like voice.  Hmm.  Let’s just go with the flow, and see where the current takes us.

The last post touched upon the narrator’s voice.  What about yours—the writer’s voice?

It’s often said we should write as we speak, but that’s not always doable or practical, given the scenario.  Sometimes the situation, or the narrator and character(s) have particular personalities and speech or vocal quirks that require a shift in written speech and expression.  This is good.  You don’t want a flat voice throughout your book; you want it to sound real.  Just listen to those around you: no one speaks the same.  We all have our own [noticeable] cadence, expressions and phrases.

If you follow certain authors regularly, you’ve likely noticed that they often use the same specific words and phrases, idioms, sentence structure and lexicon, and rhythm.  I have a certain diction/delivery style and so do—or will—you.

Here’s an example from Chapter One of Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich:

Ginny Scoot was standing on a third-floor ledge, threatening to jump, and it was more or less my fault. My name is Stephanie Plum and I work as a bounty hunter for my bail bondsman cousin Vinnie.

Ginny had failed to show for a court appearance and it was my job to find her and return her to the authorities. If I don’t succeed my cousin is out his bond money, and I don’t get paid. On the other hand, there’s Ginny, who would prefer not to go back to jail.

My colleague Lula and I were on the sidewalk, looking up at Ginny, along with a bunch of other people who were taking video with their smartphones.

If you’ve ever read Janet’s [funny and enjoyable] Stephanie Plum books, you’ll recognize her distinct style.  Bounty-hunter Stephanie is relatively laid-back and tells it like it is.  She doesn’t have a university education, which shows in her voice and attitude/outlook.  The job leans toward dangerous, given most of the folks she has to find are unwilling to be put back in the pokey.  That sense of danger is communicated when she imparts her (and Lula’s) antics and you perceive her emotions/feelings: resolve, trepidation, uncertainty, annoyance, worry.

How about before and after examples from another writer (yours truly)?

Before“She wouldn’t say what it was?”  Sach’s voice was sounding slurred.  Small wonder; he was about to down what had to be his fourth shot.  That, with the four beers he’d recently tossed back, should hit him much like the soccer-ball that caught him on the forehead early last November.

What have we learned about Sach?  He likes to bend his elbow from the sounds of things.  Because he was hit with a soccer ball, we could assume he enjoys sports, or at least soccer, but whether as a spectator or player is unknown (at least in this example).

After“No shi-it?  She wouldn’t sa-ay what it was, huh?”  Sach’s baritone voice sounded slurred.  Small wonder; he was about to down his fourth shot after having tossed back four beers.  Those would fell him like that soccer-ball that smashed into his forehead at Busch Stadium last fall.

Now what have we learned?  Again, he likes to bend his elbow from the sounds of things.  He has a baritone voice and he’s not opposed to using vulgar slang.  Watching soccer is a favored pastime.  Anything else?  Yes—he likely hails from Missouri, given that’s where Busch Stadium is located.

Diction (the selection and use of words in writing/speech) can paint an extensive, colorful picture. 

What makes up your writer’s voice?  Your outlook, tone/feeling, and personality.  Outlook: what you believe and stand for.  Tone/feeling: how you speak, the sort of feeling and emotion [attitude] you convey.  Personality: who you are, your personal likes and dislikes, and behavior. voicesat3

These come naturally, given who you are, but they can be developed or polished to produce a specific or new writer’s voice.

It’s tempting to talk about using multiple voices in a given project, but for this post at least, let’s stick to your voice on the whole.  Here’s an example of my writer’s voice 20-some years ago from an old manuscript, “Sardines & Cheese”.  My voice has remained rather similar (though nowadays I steer clear of attempting to sound cleverer than I am).

Allow me to officially introduce myself.  Kentucky Justice Smith, at your service, as my dear deceased brother Shane would have added.

The name Kentucky came about not because I was born in the state, as I’m inclined to tell people, but because I was born on the day of the great derby, a day my departed father had placed (and lost) a big bet.  Ian James Smith had been a copper on the Montréal force, a hard-edged one, but a fairly efficacious one when he wasn’t being questioned for questionable tactics or behavior.  He’d also been a gambler, as you may have surmised, and a drinker, one who ironically succumbed to primary liver cancer.

Me, I’m a private investigator and a part-time bartender.  I was an aspiring mystery writer, “was” because I’ve been in writer’s block mode for about nine months now, but then to be fair to myself, things like homicides, world-wide travels, and a bit of bedlam have consumed many cycles of the moon’s phase.  More on all that later.

The intention was to have my narrator, Kentucky, sound easy-going yet “clever” and witty.  Reviewing it now, I’m not sure that that was accomplished.  There’s a hint of patronization perhaps.

The intention re my writer’s voice was . . . LOL . . . the same.  To sound easy-going yet clever and witty.  It’s not patronizing, but possibly endeavoring to be something it’s not, such as cunning or maybe even glib.

Learning and developing are par for the course in anything we attempt and do.  As writers and bloggers we grow and mature . . . we improve with time, like a good wine.  Writing regularly will assist with that, so will reading.  And don’t just “read”, but notice (scrutinize) how the author has presented his/her voice through narrator, character(s), and/or actions.

And when you’re writing, review the voice(s) in your work for uniformity.  Are outlook, tone/feeling, and personality consistent?  Is there too much repetition for naught?  Does it read naturally—like a smoothly asphalted street, and not a gravel-lined rural road?  If it doesn’t, don’t fret.  It will come, like anything, when you apply yourself.

. . . On that note, although irrelevant, here’s a little sing-along to start the day off on a happy-talk note.

Genre Juggling

Last weekend’s post touched upon editing components to consider when doing your own editing.

  • genre
  • voice(s)
  • POV
  • plot/subplots
  • conflict/friction
  • action
  • scenes
  • settings
  • characters
  • dialog
  • motivation/moods/reactions
  • facts

Not one for abundant eye-glazing details, I prefer to—as you’ve likely noticed—keep posts reasonable in length.  While the above list doesn’t comprise the be-all-and-end-all of editing elements, it’s a solid place to start.

And speaking of starting, let’s take a gander at genre.  You probably already have one or two you like and write.  Or maybe you’re setting forth on your first writing adventure, debating what sort of story you’d like to weave?  Let’s give some thought to the multitude of genres you can choose from.

Firstly, books are either fiction or nonfiction.  The former revolves around a story created by an author (you)—courtesy of that wonderful creative faculty called imagination—while the latter comprises factual information.

We could break down the two types even more.

Fiction would include, but not be limited to:

⇒ mystery (a personal favorite), thriller, police procedural, romance and erotica, horror, Gothic, children’s and YA (young adult), fantasy, science fiction, drama, saga and western, action/adventure, fabulism (also known as magical realism), satire and parody.

Fiction could come in the form of a novel or novella, short story or prose.  We also have literary fiction and commercial or popular fiction.  The first is more “cerebral”, if you like; the stories tend to be more involved, non-mainstream, and “clever”.  The second is what the majority of readers enjoy—those books we purchase (or used to before Kindle) at the airport or corner store.  Most books on bestseller lists tend to fall under the commercial umbrella.

Nonfiction would include, but again not be limited to:

⇒ history, politics, how-to advice, travel, true-life tales (biographies and autobiographies), science, health, guides, cooking, inspirational, religion and spirituality, New Age, anthology, creative (decorating, refurnishing, remodeling, crocheting, you-name-“ing”), diaries and journals.

Nonfiction can be divided into narrative nonfiction and general nonfiction.  The first is factual information arranged to convey a story while the second is information that revolves around an actual/factual topic.

Both fiction and nonfiction, of course, break down even further into sub-classifications/subgenres.  If you’re interested in learning more, I heartily encourage you to go Googling—there’s oodles to be discovered.

If you’re determining which genre you’d like to write, be aware that each one has specific rules—but you may already know this.  If you’re devoted to a certain genre, you’ve no doubt recognized its pattern and rhythm.  You know that certain types require a specific ending: a happy one.  Yes, of course, you can always break the mold, but that’s another post.

Some genres will require more imagination than others, such as sci-fi and fantasy.  Here you’d be creating unique worlds and non-human characters.  You’d have to visualize—and aptly describe—them.  With other genres, such as westerns, family sagas, and historical romances, you’d need to do in-depth research re costumes, locations, vehicles and paraphernalia.  Mysteries, particularly those that lean toward police procedurals and crime dramas, would benefit from actual law enforcement (and related) processes.  More on fact-finding in a subsequent post.

If you’re looking to earn some serious$ money, you’d likely want to write in a top-selling genre (though, personally, I believe you write for the love of it).  The five genres that sell exceptionally well are:

⇒  romance (and erotica)     ⇒  mystery (and crime)     ⇒  religious and spiritual/inspirational     ⇒  sci-fi and fantasy, and     ⇒  horror.

genreswp1Truly, there’s much (!) to offer on the subject of genres—I could probably write four or five posts on them alone, but the idea here is to give you food for thought, a (teeny) taste of all that’s available.  Once you’ve determined your genre, know it inside out—and own it.  Understand your audience, and deliver what it expects and wants.

Happy genre picking.

Proofreading = Checking = Correcting . . . or Bloopers & Blunders Begone

Let’s continue with the topic of editing, but shift a wee bit.  What about proofreading (or proofing)?  Or copy-editing and line-editing?  There are actually quite a few, but for all intents and purposes, let’s stick to proofing and editing.

Although they’re often used interchangeably, yes my friends, there is a difference.

Proofing basically entails reviewing a completed document to locate and fix typos, grammar and style mistakes—what I jokingly call bloopers and blunders.  The emphasis is on correcting superficial errors in spelling, grammar, composition, punctuation, and formatting.  Think of it as a “quality check”.

Editing includes proofing, but it’s more intensive.  In addition to the above, you’re taking into account how facts and details, and ideas are organized.  Editing isn’t a one-time action, by the way; you really need to edit several times.

Whether proofing or editing, set aside your work for a while after writing (a half hour, a day, week, or longer if you’re not in a rush).  This allows for “fresh eyes”.  You don’t always see the mistakes (those silly little oopsies) when you’re proofing or editing as you’re composing.

Between you and me, I find it best to proof and edit from a printed page.  But that’s l’il ol’ me (I’m still kinda old-school).  Some peeps do fine eyeballing documents on screen.  Whatever works.

I’ve heard it said you should read your work out loud to “hear” the off bits.  I’ve never done that once in my life.  But if you’re new to proofing and editing, it might prove a worthwhile endeavor.

Feel free to use a spell checker, but bear in mind it won’t catch correctly spelled words that have been erroneously utilized.  A simple example: “its” versus “it’s”.

There are also some fantastic on-line proofreaders.  I hear Grammarly is one of the best and you can use certain components for free.  If you plan to use one, do your due diligence and determine which is best for you.

Happy proofing!

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(Note: this was previously posted, but I’m forever living and learning—if you uses the “classic” version of a certain photo editor, pics don’t anchor.)

Clarity & Verbosity – Friend & Foe

The former’s what you want to achieve and the latter’s what you want to crush—through editing.  Clarity is our friend; we like simplicity and clearness.  Verbosity is our foe; no one cares for longwindedness or wordiness (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz).

The previous post touched upon word usage, so let’s stay on point (to a point).

Editing is a great way to develop as a writer; it sharpens talent.  No matter what you’re writing books, yes, you’ll have to do a few edits.  Or not.  It’s entirely up to you.  An aside: I know someone who refuses to do even one edit.  Sadly, it shows.  “X” wonders why he’s never been able to attract an agent or traditional publisher, given X totally believes he’s an awesome writer.  (Kudos to confidence: reproach to arrogance.)

You’re a committed writer; as such, you’ll edit.  So write, write, write.  Put the finished product away for a while.  A few days at the very least.  Return to it with fresh eyes.  Then edit, edit, edit.

The process truly isn’t as daunting as you may imagine.  Sure, there might be some initial trepidation.  You may even think (with tremulous breath) what if:

  • my writing sucks
  • I can’t do a proper edit
  • I get overwhelmed, and/or
  • find 100 things wrong?

You know what?  You’ll do fine.  Just take your time; rushing is never good unless your aim is to be a contest winner.  If it’s a novel, do it in stages (not all at once).  Cut out unnecessary narrative and superfluous words.  Remove useless [“no value add”] information and passages.

But editing isn’t all about cutting, either.  It’s about adding—providing supplementary descriptions and depictions, or enhancing plot and augmenting information.  Think of yourself as an artist painting a picture (also known as masterpiece).  Which brings us back to . . . yup, clarity.

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Read your work like its creator, not a reader wanting to be entertained or enlightened.  Focus that critical eye—analytically and decisively.

Remember: you’re merely improving what you’ve done, which is already pretty darn good!

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What’s in a Word?

A lot.  Which takes us into a new post about editing, the first of several.

Too many words and you may lose your reader/viewer.  Too few words and writing may seem “static” (dull, stagnant, boring).  How you present ideas through written communication will be based on what you’re offering (fiction or nonfiction) and your audience (who you’re writing for).

Let’s begin with word usage.  Every word has its own nuance and merit.  Here’s a simple example:

  • Bradley said he’d start work on the project next week.
  • Bradley divulged he’d start work on the project next week.
  • Bradley declared he’d start work on the project next week.

The bolded words relate to a form of verbal communication, yet each offers a different spin.  The first one tells us Bradley spoke; the tone isn’t conveyed so maybe he’s sad, angry, or bored out of his mind.  (If we add an adverb—dully, excitedly, sleepily—we have a better idea of what good ol’ Bradley is thinking or feeling.)  The second one suggests something secretive had been going on and our buddy has finally revealed this.  In the third example, Bradley Boy is stating something emphatically—i.e. making an official announcement.

Maybe you’re just starting out as a writer/blogger and you’re still getting a feel for your “voice”.  That’s fine.  It takes time to hone skills, just as it takes time to refine writing.

I love a good thesaurus, but years as a writer and editor have taught me to use it judiciously.  Feel free to utilize one and give thought to the following: 

Tip #1: Don’t throw in synonyms willy-nilly just to “jazz up” your post or writing (you may inadvertently “jam up”).   Tip #2:  Make certain that the synonym is appropriate; check the definition, even if the word is familiar.  Tip #3:  Ensure the synonym is recognizable and applicable to your audience.

Use the right words to correctly convey the message.  Write and edit (polish) accordingly.  Sure, it takes extra time: consider it an investment.  Clear and concise writing sells [much] better than that which is garbled and long-winded.  Trust me on this one—been there, done that (many a time).  Lesson [happily] learned.

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