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Editing and Critiques…oh my!

I’m pulling a Carol Burnette and taking questions from the “crowd.” Does anyone else love her as much as me? Or even know who she is? Went With the Wind is my favorite skit ever….YouTube it, people!tumblr_mq5avosuov1qar83lo6_500

Over there in the back, what’s your question?

How do you know when you’re finished editing? It could go on forever!

Yes, yes it could. This is where deadlines help. Unless you not even near the finish line, you’re hitting send to your editor on the due date. That’s a nice, abrupt end to your edit! But, gearing this toward a newer author, I think what you really want to know is when to let go of that manuscript you’ve been working on for months (years)? You query and get a full request from an agent and suddenly you’re convinced your manuscript needs one more pass…and then another. Sending off requested pages or even entering contests can be daunting. Is it ready for prime-time?

I’m going to reference something I heard Eloisa James say, and I apologize that I’m going to have to paraphrase, but basically, she said write the best book you can RIGHT NOW and send it out into the world. This is not to say you shouldn’t study your craft and do your very best, but people (and women especially) aim for perfection and will beat themselves up and hem and haw over every single sentence. Basically, when you are tweaking individual words, you need to let it go.

Here’s the truth: what will get you signed by an agent or your book contracted by an editor is not which verb you picked to use in the last sentence on page seventy-five, it is your VOICE. Is it compelling? Does it draw the reader in and not let them go? Voice matters more than perfect grammar or even plot sometimes. Plot and grammar are fixable; voice is a more elusive creature. (As an aside, I didn’t understand what a dangling participle was until my first editor pointed them out…eek!)

How do you know whether your critique group is helping or hurting?

One thing I’ve learned in the years since I started writing is there is no right or wrong way to approach a manuscript. Some writers I know write 1-3 chapters and send them off to their critique partner or group and wait for feedback before moving on. Some writers have sworn off critique groups/partners.

I fall somewhere in between. I have one critique partner, and I usually “use” her to read projects where I’m stepping out of my usual genre. For most of my manuscripts, I write/edit/turn in without anyone else reading it before my editor, mainly because of those pesky deadlines I mentioned above. Honestly, I usually don’t have the time for someone else to read my manuscript.

My rule of thumb comes from entering somewhere around a million unpublished contests…if the critique makes you feel like crap and question whether or not you should even be a writer, then it has turned toxic. I’ll be honest, some people are toxic by nature. Maybe they’re jealous, maybe they’ve had a bad day, maybe someone kicked their dog when they were eight and they have a vendetta against the world. Who knows?! If the feedback resonates and fires new, better ideas, go for it. But, all feedback is not good feedback. Do a gut check. Basically, if you’re excited about the feedback you get and can’t wait to make your manuscript better, then you have a helpful critique relationship. If the feedback makes you want to cry and instills more doubts than optimism, then move on!

Don’t let your critique group/partner become a crutch, and don’t change something just because someone else thinks you should, even a more experienced writer, which leads into my next point…

It’s important to TRUST your stories and your voice. I queried and signed with an agent and sold two manuscripts without having any critique partners, so I’m proof it’s not necessary for success. I learned early on to trust my method and my voice because I had no choice (aka ignorance is bliss:) There will be many, many times after you get published that you won’t have the chance/time for someone else to pat your head and tell you everything looks good before you hit send. And once your’re published, you have to trust yourself enough to weather rejections and bad reviews, because if you don’t believe in what you’re writing, all those flung arrows from outside sources will eventually kill your joy. Don’t let it!

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The Down Low on Life with a Multi-Book Contract

Hi ho! Sophia Henry here and today I’m giving you the inside scoop on what happens after you sign a multi book contract. 🙂

1. Celebration! Seriously. Dance and shout and let it all out because you scored a multi book contract with a publisher! That is awesome!! Congratulations! Get the celebration out of your system, because it’s time to…

45840449 - writing with quill pen last will and testament or concept for law, legal issues or author

2. Write your butt off. Remember that first novel you wrote? I’m guessing it takes most of us more than a year to research, write, edit, rewrite, and re-edit that first book. It took me over three years w/ my first. You *probably* won’t have that kind of time again during your contract. Do you write slow? Save yourself some stress >> Be honest and realistic about how fast—or slow—you draft and build that time into your contract.

3. Editing. You will go through at least two—maybe more—rounds of edits on each book. The first will be developmental edits from your editor. Once you complete those your MS is sent to copy edits. (*Keep in mind you may go through more than one round of developmental edits to get the book where it needs to be). If you have a print book, you will probably have a page by page proof to go through after copy edits.

4. Market/Promote. While you are doing all the edits on the book to polish it to perfection, you will also be marketing and promoting. On Facebook. On blogs. On Twitter. On Instagram. Wherever you chose to have an author presence. 🙂 My advice is: take those posts to heart and make them the best they can be. Whether it’s an author interview, a guest post or an excerpt–this is what you ware showing the world about you and your writing. Maybe the blog only has 25 followers. It doesn’t matter. Promotion is promotion. 25 is better than Zero. AND if someone googles your name, that blog might come up. So always best at your best. Your brand is your career.

46744572 - promote yourself concept

5. Write your butt off. While you are doing all of this you are also (or should be) writing the next book in your contract—because I bet your deadline to have that to your editor is coming up soon.

6. Release Day! CELEBRATION TIME! Stop what you’re doing and celebrate today. I don’t care if it’s your 1st book or your 71st. Take the time to celebrate each accomplishment. You published a book (or 71 books). You ROCK!!

7. Release Day Continued… Don’t plan on doing anything on Release Day other than: answering calls, texts, FB messages and posts, Twitter, Instagram, commenting on blog posts. THANKING everyone who bought, read, shared, helped in any way with your book.

8. Write Your Butt Off. At this point you should be very close to turning your next book in to your editor. Can I just say that TIME FLIES when you have all of this going on. It goes in warp speed, I swear.

9. Edit. See above. Just because you’re a super awesome published author with an amazing book out doesn’t mean your second won’t need (major) editing.

10. Market/Promote. See above, but you’ll be doing it for Book 2…AND Book 1. You can’t forget about that puppy! Because it’s probably going on sale a few weeks before book 2 comes out and you want to get people into your series so they preorder book 2 or snatch it up on release day!

11. ARE YOU WRITING BOOK 3 YET?? BECAUSE IT’S DUE TOMORROW!! Okay, maybe not tomorrow, but all of these things will sneak up on you. You *may* need to ask for an extension. I’m not promoting it, but it happens. Be honest and upfront with yourself and your editor. If you are honest, changes can be made. Don’t avoid contact with the world because you’re embarrassed or stressed. We are humans, not machines. An e-mail or phone call is a glorious thing. 🙂

12. #2 through #7 above OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER until you die. Death may be a *slight* exaggeration, but the cycle continues so you must be prepared for it. It’s overwhelming and amazing simultaneously. YOU’RE AN AUTHOR!!

This post is not meant to scare. It’s meant to PREPARE. Because on top of all this–you have REAL LIFE. Jobs, family, root canals…Life doesn’t stop when you are writing. Honest and realistic are my favorite words. If you are honest and realistic with yourself and your editor: You’ll be happy, your publisher will be happy, your readers will be happy. WIN WIN WIN!

Has anyone felt the heat yet? Please share your words of wisdom from your magical and crazy experience. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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Never Stop Screwing Things Up

Confession: I don’t like copy edits.

Andy Dwyer gives up. Running is impossible.For those of you unfamiliar with the process, the average manuscript goes through several rounds of edits after it’s acquired. First, there are developmental edits, wherein you and your primary editor adjust the story, plot and characters. These edits are painful, but painful in the way that a really good, challenging run or an ass-kicker of a yoga class can be. They hurt while you’re doing them, but if all goes well, you feel amazing at the end of them. (If things do not go well, you pull a muscle and get laid up for weeks. I wish I were exaggerating.)

And then there are copy edits. This involves one or more strangers, with whom you will likely never have the chance to develop a real relationship, looking over your manuscript and pointing out the obnoxious little tiny details you missed the first thirty-seven times you read your book.

It basically feels like someone sitting there telling you over and over again:

community-chang-ugh-youre-the-worstTo continue the metaphor, copy edits are painful the way crunches are painful. Every damn time you sit down to do them, they hurt. At the end of the day, you still don’t have abs. And the worst part is that you never really seem to get any better at them.

So it is with some of those little details. There’s that thing with further and farther and how you were so convinced you’d gotten it right this time except, whoops, no, you’re still wrong. Mysterious commas that defy all logic yet still manage to adhere to some tiny exception to a rule. Hyphens added and hyphens removed. Rephrasings to help avoid echoes and clean up sentences that got too wordy.

All of it adds up to a cleaner, more readable manuscript. They’re necessary. You must not skip them. But that doesn’t make them any more fun.

My big problem is that seeing all my foibles messes with my game face. Transitioning from reviewing copy edits to drafting on another project is fraught with peril. It becomes almost impossible for the words to flow because I keep thinking about those damn compound adjectives and trying to remember how the hell they work.

But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize. There are some things I will always screw up. Intellectually, I may learn the difference between who and whom, but in the blur of pouring a story out onto the page, I will revert to my old, tragically grammatically incorrect ways. And that’s okay.

The key thing is to keep writing. To keep making those damn mistakes. To maybe aspire to get a liiiittle bit better at them as time goes on. But to basically accept them and soldier on.

Ruthless sticklers for detail that they are, copy editors are there to have your back. Embrace their changes, and then forget about them. Keep writing your story.

And try to forget that it’s going to be ab day at the gym again tomorrow.

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Just Come Back Here

Oh, man. A month blog topic dedicated to stuff we screw up. This is like a playground for writers. We, as a whole, are pretty good at picking apart what we suck at, I think. Things we fumble time and time again. There are countless things–not trusting myself to tell the story; not being able to write an elevator pitch to save my life; never being able to write a short and concise synopsis (which is actually pretty hilarious considering I’m a very concise writer in my drafts). While I definitely do all those things, what I do without fail is fall to crutch words. Those pesky words I can’t let go of. They’ve been with me since my first manuscript, and if manuscript #9 is any indication, they’ll be with me for a long time to come. My favorites? Just and back. (FYI: I deleted an instance of just that didn’t need to be in this paragraph…I can’t run, and I can’t escape.)

Wordle_-_CreateWhen I Wordle my novel pre-edits, those two are nearly as large as the characters’ names on my word cloud. But like with most crutch words, they generally aren’t needed. Or at least they aren’t needed nearly as often as I would lead you do believe in my first draft.

I’ve managed to train my brain to automatically delete any unnecessary thats–while reading and writing–but I can’t quite get there with these others. Maybe it’s because when I draft, I tend to do so pretty quickly, where I don’t really think about the words I’m writing. I just (<—see??? I’ll never give it up!) write them. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown comfortable with certain ways to say certain things, and that’s how they come out on the page–as my crutch. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad I have Wordle (as well as an editing checklist I work off of) and copy-editors to delete these pesky things pre-publication, because they can weigh down the sentences and keep your MS from being punchy.

A few other crutch words to be on the lookout for are: really, very, totally, so, that, and then, just, well, good/great, quite, little…and probably a dozen others I’m not thinking of.

How about you? What are your crutch words? And do you have a special process or checklist you work from to eliminate them?

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You Get Better

If there were one piece of advice I could go back and give my former self, it would be this: You will get better.

I’m not sure about you, but back in my early days as a writer, I thought pretty highly of myself. Sure, I was disabused of the notion that I was any sort of singular talent, and fast, but I still approached my work from a weird, flawed position.

I was afraid that if this manuscript didn’t sell, then obviously nothing I wrote ever would. This manuscript was my best effort. It had to sell. If it didn’t, I would’ve wasted all that time I put into it! All those beautiful words!

But here’s the thing: that first book? Good or not (it was not), the process of writing it taught me so much. It helped me figure out that I do in fact need to do at least a little bit of plotting. It gave me a better sense of how to approach my pacing. It afforded me the chance to get a sense of my own voice.

Whether or not it sold (it did not), the time I put into it was in no way, shape or form wasted.

Writing is a craft and a discipline. It takes talent, but beyond that, it requires patience and practice. We improve by practicing our craft. And sometimes, we may not even be aware of how much we have improved.

I recently had the occasion to go back and look a manuscript I wrote a couple of years ago. While I was writing it, I thought it was the best thing I’d ever written, and even though I’d come a long way, I still had that niggling fear at the back of my mind, telling me that it might well be the best thing I ever would write.

Now? It looks amateurish. I have come so far, and I had no idea.

So here’s my advice to my former self: You will get better. Don’t worry about this manuscript, or the next one, or even the one after that. You’re learning just by writing them. You’re not wasting your time.

Delete that scene, even though it cost you blood, sweat, tears, and hours. The next one you write will be better.

Let go of that book that isn’t getting any nibbles. The one you write next will be better.

Keep going. Keep writing.

Because no matter how good you think this book is. Remember. The one you write next will be better.

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My WHAT Is Dangling?

The first time I got a round of really thorough, professional edits back on a manuscript, I just about had a heart attack. Had the track changes feature on Word gone rogue? Had my screen started bleeding red? Seriously, I’d had so many friends look over my work, and they’d said it was clean. Hell, the editor who had sent me this bloodbath of corrections said my manuscript was relatively clean.

How could there possibly be so many problems?

Perhaps I should back up a couple of steps. I am largely a self-taught writer. I got a good basic education in the literary arts in high school, and I even took a couple of gen-ed English classes in college. But I was never really, formally taught to write. I’m lucky to have a pretty good ear for the English language and a solid fundamental understanding of grammar and spelling, so I was able to muddle through. But I did not go into this first round of edits with the vocabulary to even begin to make sense of some of the things my editor was telling me.

Case in point: The Dangling Modifier. English majors and other people who survived even a rudimentary composition class may better know this as the Dangling Participle.

And wow. Did I ever have a lot of them in that first manuscript.

redskulldanglingparticipleTo save any of my fellow un-schooled writers some embarrassment, here’s the skinny on what they are and how to avoid them.

A participial phrase (look at me with the fancy words!) is one that is sort of an add-on to a sentence that helps describe what’s going on the main body of the sentence. I tend to think of them as ‘those –ing phrases’. You know, the ones you use to break up your pattern of having every damn sentence start with ‘noun verb blah blah blah’?

Examples:

Taking a sip of her wine, she tried to come up with a blog topic for the day.

Cringing in horror, she scrolled through the list of corrections her editor had left for her.

She pet her cat, imagining the comfort it would provide her when she inevitably ended up old and bitter and alone.

In each of these examples, the part in bold is the participial phrase.

The key to keeping said participial phrase firmly attached to your sentence (ie, not dangling) is to make sure that it describes the subject of the sentence. In each of the cases above, the participial phrase describes ‘she’. She takes the sip of wine, she cringes in horror, she imagines being a crazy old cat lady.

If the subject of the sentence and the acting person in the participial phrase don’t match, that’s when you end up with those unsightly dangly bits that will cause your editor to despair.

Here are some sentences that have gone horribly wrong:

Rippling with muscles, I drooled over his phenomenal physique.

Here, ‘I’ is the subject of the sentence; presumably, ‘he’ is rippling with muscles. I can fix it by changing it to ‘His body rippled with muscles, and I drooled over his phenomenal physique.’ Or ‘Rippling with muscles, his physique was positively drool-worthy.’ See? All you have to do is make sure both parts match, or that both parts have their own explicitly stated subject.

Staring at my unfinished manuscript, the cursor blinked at me with mocking disdain.

In this case, the cursor is the subject of the sentence, but I am the one staring in despair at my WIP. To correct the issue, switch up one or the other. ‘Staring at my unfinished manuscript, I imagined my cursor blinked at me with mocking disdain.’ Or insert a subject into the first part of the sentence. ‘As I stared at my unfinished manuscript, the cursor blinked at me with mocking disdain.’

Be warned, though, that once you spot this kind of error, it’s impossible to un-see it. You’ll notice yourself making the same mistake over and over, and you’ll pain-stakingly fix each one, hanging your head in shame every time you find one.

Until some far-off, distant day, you’ll try to write an article about the evils of the dangling modifier, and you’ll try to come up with some examples. And much to your bewilderment, you’ll be unable to remember how to write a modifier incorrectly.

And then you’ll know you’ve finally gotten the damn thing down.

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What You Have To Do / What You Love To Do

Truth time: I hate about 50% of the work of being a writer.

I hate writing query letters. I hate writing blurbs. I hate writing synopses.

I…strongly dislike re-writes. I slightly less strongly dislike line edits.

I hate, hate, hate promotion.

headdesk.gifBut here’s the bigger truth: I love writing.

And if I don’t do the rest of it, I can’t do the part I love.

It seems simple, but getting that figured out in my head was a major turning point for me. For what feels like forever, I dragged my heels on all the “other stuff” a writer needs to do besides writing. I hemmed and hawed and procrastinated, and I agonized over every word of every synopsis and every blurb. Then, one day, I woke up and shook it off, and reminded myself that the writing is what I care about. And all the other stuff is just…other stuff. I do it to support my writing. I have to do it. I don’t have to love it.

I just have to do it.

When you think about it, only hating about 50% of what you do is probably pretty good, compared to most occupations. I hated way more than 50% of my life back when I was a teacher, and probably even more than that when I used to work in advertising. No one loves cleaning toilets, and an awful lot of the time, parenting boils down to a lot of difficult, difficult, messy work. Yet we suffer through it for the paycheck, or for our family, or for the chance at advancement. On a day to day basis, we get it done, probably because a principal or a boss or the threat of two-year-old meltdown is breathing down our neck.

In writing, unless you’re on a deadline, there’s no one breathing down your neck. It’s just you and that screen and that to-do list that makes you want to cry.

So just remember, days when the urge to weep and give up on that stupid, stupid, dear-God-why-must-I-write-you synopsis gets too strong.

You do this because you love to write. If you don’t do this, you can’t write. Not commercially. Not for a living. Not for other people to actually read.

Do what you have to do. Because it’s the only way you’ll be able to do what you love to.

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Rewriting, Revising, and…Ridiculous File System Naming Conventions?

Right now, I have open on my computer a document with the filename, ‘Walk_Away_v8-4.docx’. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the manuscript’s working title is ‘Walk Away’. But what about all that other gobbledygook?

I’m so glad you asked.

Once upon a time, I kept one file for every manuscript I was working on. Simple, elegant. No problem, right?

And then I started editing. Worse, as I became more and more sophisticated (and less naïve about the perfection of my beautiful beautiful words!), I started re-writing. Taking out whole paragraphs, scenes, hell, chapters. Maybe even the better part of the first third of a book, and then doing it over again to better capture what I was trying to say or to pursue a new direction.

Only, deleting all those words gave me hives. What if my new direction ended up being the wrong direction? What if I realized only much later that the original version was a million times better? I’d spent so much time on those words! I couldn’t just get rid of them!

And so began my completely obsessive system of keeping a million different versions of every manuscript, and numbering them to try and keep track.

Basically, every manuscript has a working title, followed by an underscore, the letter ‘v’ for ‘version’, and then two numbers separated by a dash. The first number keeps track of major revisions, such as a total re-envisioning of my hero, a new approach to a significant turning point, or a line edit of the entire manuscript. Basically, things that affect the entire story. The second number is for small changes within that larger revision. Say, punching up a single scene or realizing my previous night’s wine-fueled ramblings were less coherent than I might have hoped and maybe I should give them another shot. Things like that.

Which brings me back to the fact that I’m currently working on ‘Walk_Away_v8-4.docx’. Parse those numbers with me one more time. They mean I’m now on my eighth major iteration of this bad boy, and the fourth minor one inside of that. My folder full of saved files for this manuscript alone contains thirty-three files.

Clearly, the path to completion has not been smooth on this one.

But that’s okay. When I first considered writing a blog post on the admittedly dry-as-dust topic of version numbers and file archiving, I questioned my motivation. And my sanity. But then I decided it was something worth sharing, because these obsessive, absurd, ridiculous version number are the very thing that has saved my sanity through this bear of a manuscript.

Quite simply, I have felt free to attempt deeper, more extensive, more radical rewrites on this book in no small part because I felt completely confident that I could change my mind at any time. If I stepped back at the end and decided it had all been a waste and my first or third or seventh draft was way better, I could find that version. I could find that version within a version. It was all still there, both on my hard drive and backed up to a secure server and on a flash drive. It was all still accessible. Nothing was lost. Not even my poor, fragile, not-quite-right mind.

How do you keep your sanity when you’re doing rewrites? Does a multiple-failsafe file organization system help you sleep better at night? And what’s the worst experience you’ve ever had trying to bring an unruly story concept to life?

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A Few of My Favorite “Writing” Things, Volume I: Plotting Aids

I can’t tell you the number of hours I’ve spent searching the internet for agents, trying to remember what napkin I wrote that idea on, or looking for the perfect piece of advice on how to write a great query letter.  But I can tell you one thing – they were all precious hours I could’ve spent writing.

Over time it’s gotten easier and faster, partly because of good advice/bad advice but mostly due to trial and error.  I had to learn what worked and didn’t work for me.  So I thought I’d start a new series to share all those little things I’ve found, and hope that you can share what’s helped you as well.  For today’s installment of A Few of my Favorite “Writing” Things, let’s talk about plotting aids.

I’m pretty old school.  I don’t use any fancy software other than excel when I’m plotting out my manuscripts, and I like to have everything in front of me at once for quick and easy changes.  Here are a few items I find helpful with this:

1. Foam Boards

I use these as my plot boards.  You can also use regular poster board, but I like the foam because I can stand them up against the wall without pins or tape, which usually don’t go well with kids.  I divided my boards up into squares a little bigger than a sticky note and labeled my chapter numbers across the top.  In the boxes below it I keep track of my turning points, my scenes, my character arcs, everything.  With the aid of my next item, I use one box to note where my turning points are, 4 or 5 to layout my scenes, and the last to track my character arcs.

2. Colored Sticky Notes 

I pick a different color for each of my plot lines, one for my character arcs, and one for my turning points.  In pencil, I then write a quick description of each on the appropriate color and stick it to a box.  When I have my boards filled up it’s easy to glance across and see where I might need to add a blue sticky or a yellow sticky, hence filling in my holes.  And if you change a plot thread or remove one, it’s much easier to find all the little stragglers this way than hunting them down in a 300 page document.

plot boards

 

3. A Small Notebook or Journal

I tend to do a lot of my plotting in the car when I’m sitting in traffic, so I keep a little 4” notebook that I bought for a quarter in the inside pocket of my purse.  When I get to a safe place (please don’t attempt to do this when you’re driving!) I write what I need to down and then know exactly where to find it.  I’ve also heard of people carrying tape recorders around, or using the recording features on their phones to keep track of these bursts of ideas.

notes

Even if you’re a pantser, I’d recommend finding some way to track your plot as you write to save the valuable time you can spend hunting for that one scene you wrote a couple weeks ago, or weeding through the holes.  Maybe you prefer to use excel or a plot tracking software – find whatever works for you and do it!  It will save you time and a huge headache!  And, by all means, share them with us!  I’m always looking for a way to be more efficient!

Hugs!

Jenna P.

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Tighten It Up Volume III: Perk up Those Double D’s

I mean Description and Dialogue, of course.  So if you’re looking for a way to tame the girls, this probably won’t be helpful.

Descriptions and dialogue can eat up word count in any manuscript, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with a third, not so nice D – Drag!  For the next volume of my blog series, I thought I’d give some tips on how to make sure those double D’s are putting their best foot forward!

Descriptions

Descriptions come in all shapes and sizes.  Character descriptions, setting descriptions, wardrobe descriptions, weather descriptions etc…  Some readers believe descriptions put them in the story, while others believe it kills their imagination – but she was supposed to be rescued by Johnny Depp, not Brad Pitt!  Personally, I like to have enough description to get a general idea and then move on.

But no matter what level of detail you write descriptions at, you don’t want them to drag.  Dragging descriptions can throw off the pace of a story and distract the reader from what’s truly important.  Here are a few ways to avoid this.

1.  Know the requirements of your genre.  Readers who pick up fantasies and paranormals are looking to be immersed into another world, which requires a good deal world-building.  Readers who pick up a contemporary romance typically don’t read it for massive descriptions of the seascape or the forty-two types of flowers that grow on the hillside.

2.  Make sure your descriptions are necessary.  Do you really need a three page description of what your characters ate for dinner or what was around every turn as they traveled to work?  If you don’t, why waste the space?

3.  Combine your descriptions with action to avoid stalling.  In Example A below, I am stopping the pace of the story to state a bunch of facts.  Whereas in Example B, I am maintaining the action and embellishing with my descriptions.  See the difference?

Example:

A.  Harriet had red hair and wore hoop earrings.  When she talked she sounded like a man, and when she laughed resembled a hyena.

OR

B.  Harriet laughed, her masculine voice transforming to a hyena’s cackle as the large hoop earrings tangled into her red mane.

Dialogue

As a woman, I love to talk.  As a writer, I love to write dialogue.  I believe that witty banter can make a scene, as well as encourage your readers to fall in love with your characters.  In fact, there are many times when a scene comes to life through some strand of dialogue bouncing around in my head.

Like descriptions, if dialogue isn’t added properly it can end up sounded stilted and breaking up the flow of your scene.  Here are some tips:

1.   Understand the difference between dialogue and conversation.

Example:

“Hello.  How are you?”

“I’m fine.  How are you?”

“Good, but it’s hot out today.”

“It’s supposed to cool down tomorrow.”

This is conversation, not dialogue.  It tells me nothing about the story and nothing about the characters.  Dialogue is more important than that.  It’s used for a purpose, not to fill space with politeness.

2.  Ensure your dialogue sounds the way someone would speak.  Think about the age and gender of the character – is it the way a fourteen year old boy would express himself?  If not, your characters won’t be believable.

3.  Add action or introspection to denote pauses and eliminate boring tags.

Example:

A.  “Only one person knows what happened that night.  And it’s time for her to talk,” Greg said.

OR

B.  “Only one person knows what happened that night.”  Greg removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “And it’s time for her to talk.”

See how the middle sentence in Example B adds a bit of drama while denoting a pause in Greg’s speech?

Remember – you only have so many words to tell your story.  Make sure they’re the right words!  Do you have any other tips to share?

Hugs!

Jenna P.

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