Tag Archives: creative writing

4 Newbie Writer Mistakes that can Derail a Great Book Idea – by Anne R. Allen…

Every time I read one of Anne R. Allen’s columns, I learn and relearn so many valuable principles—and I just have to share. I’ve sort of learned a lot that she talks about in this piece (for example, not getting stuck on your first chapter, looking for advice too early, looking for advice from the wrong people), but these reminders are incredibly helpful as well as inspiring. What I need to hear most: In first drafts, the answer is “Just write.”

Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for sharing Anne’s posts.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

You’ve got a fantastic idea for a novel. It’s been hanging around for quite a while, knocking inside your noggin. The idea keeps saying, “Let me out! Release me! Put me in a book!”

Maybe there’s a scene in your head that plays like a video, with every detail of the setting right there, as if it’s on a screen. You know those characters. They’re like real people to you.

But you’ve never had the time to write it all down.

Now you do.

So here you are, finally banging out that scene. And another. And pretty soon you’ve written 10,000, maybe 15,000 words of brilliant, deathless prose. It almost wrote itself. Wow. That was almost too easy.

It IS brilliant, isn’t it?

Well, maybe not. Maybe what’s on the page isn’t quite as good it seemed when you were in the zone.

In fact, it could be terrible. What…

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10 Good Grammar Resources by Melissa Donovan…

I’m not a fan of those apps and checkers that purport to “fix” your writing. They get way too hysterical about choices that should be judgment calls (e.g., starting a sentence with “But”). Here, however, is a useful list of common-sense sources to help with grammar conundrums. Thanks to Melissa Donovan, and to Chris the Story Reading Ape for sharing it.

(Forgive a moment’s rant about people I see on various self-help social-media pages who claim that they can be good writers while dispensing with a thorough understanding of the “grammar rules.” Some of these “rules” are flexible, but some basic punctuation conventions and sentence-structure mandates like subject/verb agreement are not. Yes, commas can be tricky, and we can argue about which ones are needed and which are optional, but if you still don’t know where apostrophes belong and where they don’t. . . . Yes, there really are grammar police. They’re called agents. 😦 )

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

on Writing Forward:

There’s good grammar and bad grammar, proper grammar and poor grammar. Some writers have fun with grammar and for others, grammar’s a bore. But in order to communicate effectively and for our writing to be professional (and publishable), we all need reliable grammar resources.

There is no grammar authority, no supreme court of grammar where judges strike down the gavel at grammar offenders. Grammar is not an exact science (in fact, it’s not a science at all), and even among the most educated and experienced linguists, the rules of grammar are heavily debated.

Of course, there are some basic rules we can all agree on, and these can found in any good grammar resource. There are gray areas, too, which are skillfully handled by style guides.

As writers, we need these resources. They help us use language effectively. Good grammar ensures that our work is readable. And…

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Using “The Bookalyser” to Help You Edit Your Manuscript

A digital eye on your text

A digital eye on your text

I’ve reblogged Louise Harnby’s “10 Ways to Proofread Your Own Writing” from Chris the Story Reading Ape’s blog. Harnby’s post is full of free tools for catching slips in your final copy. I decided to try out one of them, “The Bookalyser” on the completed ms. of my as-yet-unpublished Surfing the Bones, a 98,000-word mystery.

STB had gone through an extensive edit, not least because an online critique process had left it much richer emotionally but far too long. Even though I’m currently responding to a beta read by updating some of the technology driving the plot and making minor setting changes, I considered the draft a good example of my own editing process. So I was curious to see what an editing app could tell me. What did I miss?

I have an advantage because I’m a grammar nerd capable of catching non-standard verb forms and recognizing passive-voice constructions. I can also form plural possessives, an apparently challenging task.Green smiley with a quizzical smile So standard “grammar-checkers” don’t help me much; they usually just object to my deliberate sentence fragments or my decision to start a sentence with “But.” I wanted to see if The Bookalyser offered more.

Like many programs for writers, the BA has a free version and two levels of paid versions. I used the free one. The site says out front that the tool won’t help you with style and usage questions; Word, it says, can do that. Instead, this tool provides a numerical/statistical portrait of certain features of your ms.

As advertised, if you register with email and password, it will run through your full manuscript in seconds and provide a full printout of its findings.

Rather than describe the “more than 70 different tests (and growing) across 17 report areas,” I’ll discuss what I found most useful.

I learned that

  • I use the word “maybe” 166 times, which is 10 times more than usual for fiction. Worth a search to see if I can cut some of those. Still, 166 times in 98,000 words isn’t cause for panic, I am relieved to say.
  • Less than 1% of my text consists of the dreaded “-ly” adjectives, and only two appeared more often than expected. The app did call “belly” an “-ly” adverb, but I guess that can be forgiven in such a complex app.
  • “Filler words” like “actually,” “fairly,” “just,” and “really” made up 0.59% of my text, as compared to 0.65% for fiction in general. Still, worth doing a search to see whether these are needed.
  • I used “said” as a dialogue tag 207 times and some other tag 41 times, with only 7 of these tags used more than once. I report proudly that I used a dialogue tag with an “-ly” adverb only 8 (!!!) times in my 98,000-word text.
  • The app did look for “passive” constructions, which it defined broadly, with “is dead,” “was afraid,” and “be afraid” alongside true PV forms like “was followed” or “been killed.” In other words, predicate adjectives counted in this category. Even so, the app said that only 2.5% of my sentences fell into its “passive” categories. Hooray.
  • The app compared phrases that I had hyphenated with instances of the same phrase that I did not hyphenate. I’m pretty good on hyphens, but this choice is well worth a search.
  • It also encouraged me to look at spelling inconsistencies like “check out” vs. “checkout” and “web site” vs. “website.” Quick checks should allow me to decide on a preferred form.

Suggestions for eliminating possible redundancies were less helpful. I looked at a number of these and will look at them all, but found that the shorter version often sounded less natural, especially in dialogue. These are judgment calls often resulting in a savings of one word. While in my aggressive edit to eliminate 7000 words, every word did count, the trade-off (hmmm, hyphen?) was problematic. Example: “He didn’t admit to a crime” vs. “He didn’t admit a crime.” I’ll stick with the former. That said, the program did catch “more perfect”—but this one was in dialogue. Big green smiley

Oh, and it said it didn’t find any “Clichéd similes/comparisons.” ♥♥♥

I didn’t find useful information under “Commonly confused words and phrases,” but many writers will probably appreciate this section. The app captures proper names and variances in capitalization as well. It listed word counts of various kinds, like most frequently used, most frequently used word trios, and most frequently used to open sentences. In my first-person text, “I” opened 1329 sentences compared to “He” (645) and “The” (435). Probably not a problem, but maybe worth a look.

In short, this is a FREE, rapid-acting tool that does provide interesting insights into my writing habits, offering me the chance to save a copy editor some work one day—and to produce a better-edited text should I publish this book myself. I recommend.

 

 

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10 ways to proofread your own writing – by Louise Harnby…

I always like the advice Louise Harnby offers, and when Chris the Story Reading Ape shares one of her posts, I dive in. This post is packed with ideas for catching proofreading problems. I tried out the free “Bookalyser” app included and downloaded Harnby’s free guide to using Find/Replace in Word to catch glitches. In my next posts, I’ll report on what I found useful in the Bookalyser, and I’ll compare my own free download for using Find/Replace to catch proofreading slips to hers. In the meantime, hope you find this helpful!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Fresh eyes on a piece of writing is ideal. Sometimes, however, the turnaround time for publication precludes it. Other times, the return on investment just won’t justify the cost of hiring a professional proofreader, especially when shorter-form content’s in play. Good enough has to be enough.

Here are 10 ideas to help you minimize errors and inconsistencies.

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Useful Info on Word Counts

Big green smileyThis post from Bookends Literary about the preferred (or maybe acceptable) word counts for different genres justifies my efforts to cut 6,000-7,000 words from my latest finished manuscripts. Since word count is often the first thing an agent or editor sees, I was happy to be able to claim something more appropriate than 107,000 words. image of scissors

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How Should We Think about Book Piracy in the Age of COVID? Wendig’s Take.

Here’s Chuck Wendig’s take on the decision by Internet Archive (as he points out, already on the hook for stealing and distributing copyrighted work) to provide books for free even if they are, indeed, copyrighted because people need books more than ever now. Wendig’s piece provides not only his take, elaborating on a comment that aired in a show on NPR, but also links to a response from the IA, so you can decide what you think. There is also at least one comment that takes a different stance.

Pirate ship coming for your books

I first became aware of IA’s activities through Victoria Strauss’s indispensable Writer Beware. I tracked down one of my books on IA and sent a takedown notice; supposedly they honored my request. I shared my experience on this blog (link below), then subscribed briefly to a service that promised to find all such theft of my work.

Let me tell you, that was a waste of time. The app found instance after instance. In every single case I tried to track, it was impossible to file a takedown notice. There would be no contact information, no claim of ownership, no one to protest to. Possibly, with stronger computer skills and oodles of time, I could have found the culprits. Some of these sites had takedown-notice forms, but when I sent them, they returned error messages. Long story short, I gave up.

However, one notable outcome was an exchange with a poet who is print-disabled (in his case because of vision issues), who told me about the Marrakesh Treaty, which allows “allows authorized non-profit sites to post—without permission—works for “blind and print-disabled” persons.” This was new information for me, as I suspect it will be for others.

This link will take you to the one of the later posts in my sequence about Internet Archive and book piracy, back in early 2018; there’s a link in the post to the Marrakesh Treaty, and you can read the comments from my reader. All the posts are filed under “Copyright for Writers” and can be accessed by searching for “Internet Archive.”

In any case, I also found myself consoled by an argument from Neil Gaiman that book pirates are really just helping you find readers for your work. If that claim raises eyebrows, well, maybe it should. Or not. The post contains links to several back-and-forths on whether we should be up in arms or opening our arms.

This is a fraught issue in this time of the cholera, as Wendig’s discussion shows. I probably will adhere to my non-action process for now.

If only those freebie readers would leave reviews. . . .

 

 

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“White Space”: What It Is and Why It Matters

Big dialogue bubble in a blue sky with a red question mark inside.Over at Writers in the Storm, an extremely useful writers’ site, Ellen Buikema touches on a topic I’ve seldom seen addressed in the many blogs I follow: how writers can use “white space” to make pages more inviting to readers. These pointers apply both to fiction and non-fiction (though, of course, there’s that anomaly, the academic article, with which I am very familiar and which I personally enjoyed practicing and responding to).

Maybe you need some white space now? Okay.

Paragraphing decisions and, as a comment mentioned, dialogue contribute to white space. I do notice, though, that too much white space can create a page that feels jumpy and encourages skimming rather than reading for nuance. I say this because I’ve just finished a book in which almost all the paragraphs were one or two lines with runs of short dialogue between. So I like Buikema’s response urging “balance in all things.”

Page 1 of King of the Roses in Adobe InDesign

I kinda like my balance here!

I find that I like books at both ends of that balance. Sarah Waters’ novels ask me to find my way through rich, dense detail, while many of my favorite mysteries, especially noir, choose the terse, keep-moving option.

What are your favorite examples of these choices?

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What is head-hopping, and is it spoiling your fiction writing? – by Louise Harnby…

More good help from Louise Harnby, via Chris the Story Reading Ape. This piece on point of view contains some excellent, clear examples if POV gives you fits.

No names shall be mentioned, but I’ve been seeing an awful lot of “head-hopping” in works by some well-regarded authors; I’ve learned not to gripe when it’s clear writers have built up faithful followings for whom what bugs me doesn’t even register.

Still. It DOES bug me. The minute your reader stops to scratch their head, you’ve lost them, even if for only a moment.

So I say, be purists about point of view!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Are your readers bouncing from one character’s head to another in the same scene? You might be head-hopping.

This article shows you how to spot it in your fiction writing, understand its impact, and fix it.

Continue reading HERE

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Here’s a List of Online Pitch Fests for 2020!

Book publishing success--butterflies hovering over an open book

Interested in trying out an online pitch via Twitter? Some people find this process rewarding. Here’s a list of pitch fest dates I just discovered on Victoria Strauss’s Writer Beware site (check out her warning about due diligence when responding to an agent or editor after an online pitch).

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If You Do Online Pitchfests—Writer Beware!

Here’s a warning from Victoria Stauss’s Writer Beware about the kinds of publishing predatorsmeeting an oncoming car on a dark road with a full moon overhead--navigate online pitchfests safely you may encounter at #PitMad or other digital pitching events. The sponsors of these events always encourage writers to check agents and editors carefully before submitting. Strauss’s example here contains plenty of red flags, but not all may be as transparent.

Thanks again to Writer Beware for keeping our eyes open.

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