Here’s another excellent post from Writers in the Storm, this one by guest blogger @LoriAnnFreeland. Freeland shows both graphically and verbally how to apply “Show, Don’t Tell” in our writing–she calls these “The Three Most Misunderstood Words in a Writer’s Vocabulary.” One good tip: watch out for “emotion words.” They often mean you’re not using “showing” to best advantage. (Been there!)
Category Archives: Self-publishing
This column from Louise Harnby, via Chris the Story Reading Ape, tackles the recurring problem of how to convey information about multiple characters in a scene without breaking point of view. It’s certainly a problem I struggle with. These are good reminders that there are better ways than “seemed” or “appeared to” to get across what that non-pov character might be up to. Check it out!
If your characters seem or appear to be doing or feeling something – probably, maybe, perhaps – then you might be using half measures to express a good chunk of that action or emotion.
Uncertainty can drag a story down.
Here’s how to edit for it at line level.
It’s a plain truth that our eyes skip over typos when we’re proofreading our own work. Words you left out or accidentally cut (or accidentally failed to cut) may be the hardest mistakes to catch. But the good news is that you CAN catch another type of invisible errors: punctuation and spacing glitches that detract from the professional manuscript you want to market under your name.
In this pdf, What You WILL Miss When You Proofread, I’ve combined three blog posts to show you some simple tricks using an old friend, Find/Replace, to search for and fix common typos from double periods to missing quotes. You won’t need any elaborate codes; all the commands you need are right there in the FIND box.
My fixes are based on Word, but you should be able to adapt them to any word-processing program you use.
For years, I’ve used a 2008 version of Word that came with the computer before this one. I’ve successfully uploaded to Smashwords, Ingram, and Amazon using that ancient system. At the same time, my curiosity is whetted. Have you tried any of these programs? Do they work better than Word, and if so, how?
on Just Publishing Advice:
Do you really need all those Microsoft Office programs just to write?
Writers write words. Are you a writer?
I’m sure you don’t prepare business plans with charts and graphs. You don’t use online collaboration tools. You don’t schedule meetings for a group of directors.
I doubt if you would ever need to create business presentations with 100 slides.
You write your words down for blog posts, content articles, guest posts, short stories and maybe poems. So why do you pay for MS Office to do these simple writing tasks?
There is no need to pay for a word processor
Chris shares some frustrating news, but it’s information we should probably all be aware of–if only so that WE don’t end up buying pirated books. Check out Victoria Strauss’s account of her interaction with Internet Archive. But Derek Haines tells us that Amazon is just as guilty—and indifferent (no surprise).
on Just Publishing Advice:
Counterfeit books are still a big issue on Amazon
I can only write about the ongoing problem with books.
But Amazon has taken so little action, there could also be a problem with other counterfeit goods.
You could think that identifying counterfeit books would be easy. If you publish a book on Amazon, surely Amazon could at least check for plagiarism when pirates copy your text.
The problem is not new. I have been writing about pirated ebooks and books for a very long time.
Third party sellers are making a lot of money from pirated, fake and counterfeit books.
More importantly, so is Amazon.
No one knows better than I do the anguish of being an inveterate overwriter. Here are some of the ways my penchant manifests itself:
- Stacking up adjectives, sometimes without any particular point other than the love of words. One example at random from my Failed Novel: “By the time he pulled out once more onto 41, the Tamiami Trail, the sun had turned dusty red behind him, piecing out of the sky faint, ominously pendant, pink-tinted blooms of cloud.”
- Piling up metaphors and images until I end up with a bean soup of ingredients that don’t always play well together and end up siphoning reader attention away from characters and into the quagmire of the language itself. . . . Need I say more?
- Hunting obsessively in thesaurus.com for THE PERFECT WORD so as to avoid settling for what Mark Twain would have called “the lightning bug”—but ending up with a choice (often a verb) that is so far out there that writing groups suggest gently that I probably ought to settle for something a little less . . . well, I’m having to go to thesaurus.com to find THIS right word. “Arresting”? No, that’s not right. Disruptive? Intrusive, contentious, militant. . . . You get the point.
- Diving into long passages of introspection in which I explore the character’s relation to life, the universe, and everything from so many directions readers probably feel as if they’re inside a disco ball.
What a dangerous way to write! Here are some of the sad consequences of this indulgence:
- Too much verbiage, even the brilliant kind I am so clearly expert at, slows the story pace. Readers emerge from even a page or two exhausted, just wanting to move on—or quit.
- Too many details, descriptions, and distractions dilute important moments in a scene so that what should be on display gets lost in the window dressing. Scenes should have a structure that builds to the crucial turn, but overwriting drags out scenes so that every event, line of dialogue, metaphor, or action carries equal weight.
- The words themselves start demanding the focus that should go to the characters and their interactions.
- The backstory in introspection loses its force when not linked to the characters’ actual experiences in time. If we’re told in a long, over-filled expository paragraph on page 10, among seventy or so other details, that a character had a traumatic experience at age seven, by the time we see that trauma play out on page 100, we’ve forgotten its source. We don’t know about that trauma from being told it exists, but from seeing in the moment what it does.
I’ve seen writing group members defend some pretty egregious excess by insisting that what they’re writing is “literary,” a form in which the language itself becomes the focus rather than the “plot.” I guess there was a time when I retreated behind this rationale myself. But I’ve come to apply terms like “lazy” and “self-indulgent” to pile-it-up-on-the-page writing these days. I confess I’ve arrived at this judgment after seeing how some colleagues’ drafts exhaust me when they do all the things I tend to do.
So the moral here must be “Don’t Overwrite.” Followed by “10 Steps to Avoid Overwriting.” Right?
Umm, not quite.
Instead, I’m going to claim that, in its proper place, your tendency to do all the things I listed above (and more?) is a strength!
So: X Reasons to Love Your Curse.
Actually, there’s one real reason you should value your overwriting impulses: unlike your more verbally impoverished colleagues, you overwriters generate a lot of text! You never have to sit and try to “come up with” an image or a detail. You’ve already poured out a grand effusion of writerly stuff.
Experimentation! You know you’ll cut four-fifths of what you generate. So you can let the words wander. See where they lead. Mixed metaphor? No problem. It’ll get put to rights—or in its place—in the final cut.
Choice! Somewhere among all those words and sentences and images, there’s one that really produces that scintillating “this is it!” shiver. You just have to clear away the litter that keeps it from doing its job. And don’t throw out all the efforts that didn’t answer this particular need. They aren’t necessarily substandard or failed. They may work perfectly in the scene you’re writing next.
And although all that introspection may not work for your harried readers, it’s your way into your characters. You end up knowing them intimately, as you must if you and your readers are to willingly share their worlds for 99,000 words.
Same with world-building. Too many details? Even if you cut that street-by-street description, you still live in those alleyways and cul-de-sacs in your mind.
And who knows? Maybe you, more than your verbally limited colleagues, actually will one day produce a literary masterpiece. After all, it’s from the piling up of words, images, sentences, that the “voice” that commonly defines “literary” emerges.
The key, of course, is to actually do the CUTTING that converts your curse to a strength. I know how hard it is to hack out those lovely lines that flowed from that sacred font. I’ve found that I finally have to be told, indisputably, that X words have to go. Then it actually starts to become fun to watch how paragraphs firm up, cohere, how fast the lines race by and how hard they slice.
One painful but potentially useful exercise: take a particularly long, detail-and-event laden chapter, and vow to reduce it by one-half. Can’t do it? Try for one-third. Just to see what you get.
(Hmmm. Maybe I should do that with this post. . . . :D)
Do you have strategies that make your overwriting indulgences work for you?
I like this discussion from Roz Morris (via Chris the Story Reading Ape) at Nail Your Novel. I’m struggling with revisions to endings and this post gives me some useful questions to ask.
Exposition! Eeek! In my case, not so much a sign that I didn’t “explain” earlier as that I worry that I didn’t explain clearly or explicitly enough. I’m converting an expository section to a scene between two of the characters left standing. Not sure yet if it’s working, but it’s better than what I had.
So make use of Roz’s advice if it pertains to you!
It’s hard to see the flaws in our own work, and the ending is especially a problem. We know ourselves how it’s supposed to pack its punch, or we hope we do, but will the reader?
Here’s a handy test.
You’ve seen arrests in movies. And you know, don’t you, that a person may harm their defence if they don’t mention any evidence they later rely on in court.
This is like story endings.
A good ending
First of all, what’s a good ending? It has a feeling of ‘rightness’, even if it has surprises, leaves questions or unresolved issues. It must be fair (to the reader, not necessarily to the characters). It mustn’t look arbitrary.
When an ending fails, it’s usually because it wasn’t sufficiently set up.
It fails the arrest test.
Which is this:
It may harm your story’s effectiveness if you fail to mention any evidence (about events…
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