Roll 10, Scene 2, Take 4

Ready for another wee editing session?  Yeah?  Awes-some.

While we don’t use clapperboards in fiction writing, when editing scenes, we certainly end up with several “takes”. WPblogC

To quickly sum up a scene: it’s basically an act, a passage that reveals events and actions as they occur.  Readers “see” what’s transpiring as it happens.  They connect to the characters; they feel for the characters.

scene = action and reaction = plot purpose

You can have faultlessly correct scenes—the grammar is perfect and the details are descriptive—but how do they read?  Do they pull readers into the plot and action?  Or do they have a snoozzzze effect?

     Cordially yet coolly, Terry and Lester greeted the guests in the great hallway.  The fifty-something twins bore little resemblance to each other: the former was lanky, the latter fleshy.  I found them indifferent, distant, and sensed this long weekend at the chateau would be more than out of the ordinary.  A frisson quavered down my neck and shoulders.

Maybe this is more effective (you judge)?

          “Welcome to Chateau Cormier.  We hope you enjoy your stay,” Lester said coolly with a slight bow, his egg-white face tense.

          Terry, a lanky version of his fleshy twin, flourished a long slender arm.  His tone, too, leaned toward stony.  “Please make yourselves comfortable in the main dining room.”

          A frisson quavered down my neck and shoulders.  A gut feeling suggested this long weekend would extend beyond the ordinary.  “Could I bring my bags to my room instead of leaving them in the foyer?” I asked with forced cordiality.  No one had greeted us at the door, or seen to our needs, so I assumed we’d be fending for ourselves.

It’s better to show and not tell.  The second example has more “life”, whereas the first one tends to be a little flat.  You want to yank those readers in and hold onto them, so steer clear of excessive narration.  Get them involved; sustain interest.

Scenes also contain action, but often that action is dialog.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t want to be overly excessive in the chat/chatter department, either.  If the intent is to have a dialog-filled scene, add action here and there.  Why?  It gives readers insight (imagery, visualization) into what characters are doing and/or where they are. WPblogA

Scenes usually have locations and settings (to be discussed in another post), which further add to the visualization component.  They enable readers to picture surroundings and backdrops; in essence, they add another dimension.

“It’s a nice watch.”  John held the gold watch up to the light to better view it.

“It’s a stunning watch.”  Standing by a tall window in the cluttered Boston antique shop, John studied the gold 18th-century timepiece.

Some genres, such as sci-fi and historical fiction, require more explanation than others.  Descriptions of events and settings are vital, given the landscapes.  This, however, could be accomplished through the addition of scenes as opposed to straight [endless] narration.

Give thought to the characters in a scene: are they important enough to warrant one?  Or can the details of their actions/storyline be summarized in a short narrative (summation)—through the narrator or another character?

And what about feelings and emotions in scenes?  They’re important, too.  They’ll give readers insight into what makes characters tick, and play the deciding factor in whether readers will dislike or like (root for) them.  Provide these through actions and reactions rather than simply stating (telling).

When you’re editing scenes:

⇒  give thought as to the aim of the scene (has it been successfully conveyed)

⇒  consider how revision will affect later scenes (ensure adjustments tie up loose ends)

⇒  make certain there are enough of them (not just narrative summations and/or copious amounts of dialog)

⇒  confirm that they differ in length, actions and reactions, conflict and friction, and dialog arrangements

⇒  check that settings and locations aren’t repetitious in details/descriptions; previous posts, variety is the spice of life—and fiction

⇒  make sure that they flow logically (rework them if they don’t).

After an edit, ask yourself if scenes:

⇒  engage readers

⇒  are strong/dynamic

⇒  paint [pretty/realistic] pictures

⇒  smack of energy/excitement?

If any scenes prove as limp as yesterday’s tuna-salad sandwich, there’s only one thing to do: snip, snip, snip.  WPblogB

Next post, let’s carry on with a similar theme: settings.

 

Action Activation

Chugging down the editing tracks, let’s explore the exciting component of action.

We know plot and characters drive our stories.  Like rum in a Mai-Tai, they should have a knock-you-over factor.  Action is equally important and we’re not necessarily referring to staunch Detective Roberts slamming villainous Tim Smith on his as—uh—butt.

Action, as an FYI, can be dialog, an event or deed, a consequence or reaction.  Action at the onset—the prologue / first chapter—is a good thing because it reels in your readers.  And if it’s well written and maintained, it hooks them to the very end.

Reading the novels of successful authors is a splendid way to understand what great action makes.  You’ll discover that it can be composed of powerful and graphic detail just as it can be conveyed with minimal description.  Some actions scenes are long; others are short.  There are no rules per se, but there is a skill factor which, like anything, comes with practice and time.

Major action yanks your readers through plot twists.  An example: the trio from the Triple Threat Investigation Agency confronts a crazed, ranting killer in an isolated location—but is he the one they’ve been diligently searching for?  Think of slasher flicks as another example.  Every time a couple of unsuspecting teens round a corner in a dilapidated house, something major (fatally gruesome) happens and stunned, curious viewers are riveted.

Minor action is the commonplace things characters do daily, like you and me.  Example: Rey meets JJ at a local bar to review the latest case findings.  A simple scene like this might allow you to get a feel for Rey’s melodramatic nature, learn the two love Mai-Tais, and discover they’re cousins who’ve grown close in recent years.

To make your story work and be compelling you need to incorporate both.  And regardless whether major or minor, use action at the right time for the right purpose.

Genre will play a part; some stories will be slower than others and incorporate progressive development differently.  Whatever the genre, though, you’ll still need a clincher of an opening.  A dynamic beginning will grab your readers’ attention and hold it throughout.

The beginning of your tale should incorporate major and minor action, with the major being the “problem” or “incident” or “event” that pushes your main character on that path to resolution.  Think of it like a call-to-action button.  The minor (commonplace) transpires as a character is strolling (or racing, as the case may be) along that winding or precipitous path. actionblog4

To sustain attention, action has to keep the story surging, sometimes taking different or unexpected directions.  Remember the post about conflict and tension?  Make sure both are consequences of action.  Collectively, they serve like the holy trinity in Cajun cooking: essential flavoring.

One action may lead to one discussion, or several.  It may prompt a response, or many.  It will trigger a reaction, or two.  That action doesn’t necessarily have to be physical, either; it can be emotional, mental, or verbal.  Dialog can prove quite forceful.  Instead of having two characters punching and pushing, have them screaming and/or crying.  Maybe John yells “enough” and flings a laptop at the wall (testy technology annoys the guy big-time).  Lee, never a sucker for sentimentality, might actually cry at viewing something “cute”.

Like subplots and dialog, and that narrator’s voice, action must vary in intensity.  While things should connect, they don’t need a 1-2-3-4 approach.  Mix things up; have readers guessing.  Try 1-7-3-2.  But ensure all is logical.  Variety truly is the spice of life.

As an FYI, action doesn’t necessarily end upon the story’s climax.  It may (and should) continue—perhaps to clarify the reasons for all that has transpired or to provide foreshadowing of a sequel.

When editing action, make certain it:

  • is appropriate to the genre
  • complements the story
  • is necessary
  • is logical/relative
  • suits the characters (given their personalities and backgrounds)
  • doesn’t stagnate by being drawn out or over-detailed
  • continues to the end and doesn’t stop with the climax.

As you’re editing scenes, consider whether the action belongs.  Is it [truly] moving the scene/plot along?  Are your readers going to benefit from it (like learn more about a character or situation)?

Do the actions seem plausible?  If one of my P.I.s gets punched or beaten, she’d be sporting a bruise or two.  In real life, chances are if we’re involved in an altercation, we wouldn’t be looking like we’re walking the Oscar red carpet.  In fact, we may limp down it—with a groan or two.  Do due diligence, as appropriate.  What might someone look like after an accident or fight?  What would be the medical and physical repercussions?  If the main character is racing down a deserted road in the rain, might he/she veer off when wheels lock or slow down as anxiety takes control?  What will the outcome(s) of action(s) be?

Something you’ve undoubtedly heard countless times: show, don’t tell.  That holds true with action.  Don’t tell readers; show them.

Examples—which works better?

  • Fred sighed, obviously unhappy.
  • Fred sat in the chair and looked unhappy.
  • With a loud lengthy sigh, Fred closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.
  • Sighing softly, Fred tossed back the brandy in one loud gulp.  “Why’d Lisa walk out on me like that?”

Take action by breathing “life” into your story.

Next post, let’s take a quick gander at reaction.

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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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