Monday, December 19, 2011

Pondering PlotWriMo

Today is Day Nineteen of Martha Alderson's PlotWriMo. I have thought through my NaNoWriMo story organically, nailed the protagonist, her internal conflict and her two opposing goals, and strengthened my Hook and Climax. I've linked the beginning and end with character motivation and change. And I'm excited about the rewrite. But, what about the middle or the muddle?

The middle of my NaNo draft was too easy, they coasted along from one manufactured disaster to the next. Now is the time to analyze it for cause and effect. Did I throw a bomb just because I, the writer, needed one? Couldn't think of anything else? Or did the antagonist have a good reason for doing this?

Ah... this is the hard part. The middle is the world of the antagonist, and everything the antagonist does must make sense, even if in a warped manner. Otherwise, I have a paper tiger, conveniently throwing roadblocks and complications just to thicken the plot. Cause and effect have to line up from Hook to Climax logically from the point of view of all characters, protagonist, antagonist, and everyone involved. Time to do some hard thinking.

For those of you interested in the revision process, check out

Friday, December 9, 2011

PlotWriMo Road Bumps

Martha Alderson's PlotWriMo is a journey designed to wrestle those hastily created NaNoWriMo novels into shipshape. So why the sad face?

Ah... well... the exercises call for finding scenes and events to fit into the major plot points--all done from memory. And knowing me, it's not that I can't remember, it's that what I remember, I no longer like.

1) Set-up
2) Inciting Incident
3) End of Beginning
4) Halfway Point
5) Crisis
6) Climax
7) Resolution

I have two plot sequences so far. Dramatic Action and Romance. The Dramatic Action's #4 point has changed. I just made up a scene that does not exist in my draft to make my protagonist more heroic and less wimpy.

The Romance? The entire middle has been changed. #4, #5, and #6. The heroine no longer wimps out with a tell-all letter. Show, not tell, right?

Who knows? By the end of December, I might have an entirely new story at hand. And this, I surmise, is the whole point of taking a month off between rewrites.

For more, check out

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 Word Count Art

Wordle: Michal's Window
Folks on Critique Circle are talking about a java applet that runs through your document and generates a Word Cloud, or visual representation of the most frequently use words. Try it at

I ran my draft of Michal's Window through the applet and found that "David" occurred most often. What's surprising is that "back" occurs so much. A quick scan showed I'm using "back" in many ways, "come back", "look back", "step back", the body part, visceral reactions, "back off", "back away", "held back", "turned back", "I'll be back", "back to bed", "when will he be back" and of course, Michal is on her back a lot, just kidding! Other common words are "face" and "eyes. "kissed" is the most commonly occurring verb, hmmmm....

Hit "Randomize" and the applet will generate different colors, fonts, and patterns.
Here's another one:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers: PlotWriMo ~~ DECEMBER: INTERNATIONAL PLOT WRITING ...

Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers: PlotWriMo ~~ DECEMBER: INTERNATIONAL PLOT WRITING ...: As many of you know Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers hosts the International Plot Writing Month , also known as PlotWriMo or as my ...

I'm doing Martha Alderson's PlotWrMo to whip my NaNoWriMo story into shape. I've got her book and am watching her cool videos with scenes of California beaches in the background.

Join me!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaNoMoWri Results

Today's the last day of the now forever in my mind crazy month of November. It is a blustery month, one with swirling leaves and slight cold showers. The month started hot with highs in the upper 70's. The trees sported all their summer leaves and children wore shorts to school. High temperatures, high hopes for high word counts.

In a matter of days, the showers arrived and temperatures dipped into the 60's. I bent my head to my laptop and cranked and cranked at a novel I had plotted, complete with spreadsheets and timelines. But something happened at day 10. I hit 50K but decided this novel was stale. Lots of action but no heart.

Outside the leaves turned gold, orange, and red. I had never noticed it before. But fall color in the Bay Area is in mid November. We hit sunny days again. Freed from the burden wordcount, I started dreaming again. A romantic suspense. I had no inclination to write it for NaNo. But by November 15, I had somewhat a plot and somewhat a set of characters. So I wrote about what I knew. The world of computer programmers in an Internet startup. Throw in a murder and a maniacal villain, two hapless protags with secrets to hide, and boom. I started to type again.

Along the way, I shed my previous novel, Michal's Window, went through three edit rounds and sent it to my editor yesterday. Since I had no goal of 50K, I surprised myself with 60K in the new novel. I finished it on Sunday, day 27, and now I'm back to fix my official NaNo story.

November will forever be the time of change. A time to say good-bye to old characters and bring in the new. NaNoMoWri was the perfect opportunity to make the transition. The leaves have almost blown off now--the orangey-red hue of Chinese pistachio trees, the golden yellow elms, and the bright red liquidambars contrasting with the dark green pines and the purple plums.

It was not about wordcount. Nope. To me, NaNoMoWri was successful in kicking me out of Michal's Window, and landing me with new problems to solve and new characters to explore. What was your NaNo experience like? Was it satisfying? Enlightening? or pure drudgery?

I'm glad I did it, and I will participate again, if only to get me to try new stories and visit new experiences.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Purple Babies, Part II

I finished my read-aloud through Michal's Window before sending it to my editor. Here are a few more purple phrases that got the ax. Read and weep, or laugh.

His mouth bruised my tongue, and the stubble of his beard rasped my cheeks, plowing tart, tingling stings into the edge of my lips.

My abdomen tightened with iron bands of tension. I reeled him in with my legs, desperately arching to mate with the battering torrent of his anguish.

An explosion of stars burst behind my eyelids as he slapped my head against the wall.

His magnificent roar ripped the fabric of my consciousness as he surged and spread himself bare into my heart.

My left arm and shoulder cramped, as a cauldron of heat boiled and bubbled inside of me, causing me to wiggle to relieve the tension.

A cold web spread over my hair and tightened my scalp.

My stomach clenched as an avalanche of stones crushed my heart.

A monstrous tidal wave of pressure hammered me with swell after swell of raw delight.

Wasted, we wrapped our limbs around our battered bodies, our hearts scourged by spiked whips, bleeding rivers of eviscerating torture.

Now, why did my crit partners let me get away with these? Probably laughing too hard.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Accidental NaNo Story

Yesterday I wrote how frustrated I was with my official NaNoMoWri story, the one I plotted ahead of time with spreadsheets, plot points, mid points and pinch points.

After burning out on November 10, I took a few days off to bump around the Internet, give critiques and hang out at the Romantic Suspense class I took at I was fourteen days behind on the homework. But since I paid for the class I tackled the homework in the post-reply, making it up as I went along. Funny thing happened. I came up with a story concept. The instructor, Dee Lloyd, critiqued my prologue and first chapter. She suggested I drop the prologue, so I dropped it. She suggested a murder. At first I did not want to do a murder. I just wanted to do a computer crime and a kidnapping. But along the way, a body ended up under someone's car, so I got my murder.

Jennifer Cruz Jones has a new job, a new car, and a new apartment. Athletic and trim, she worked her way through college and 24 Hour Fitness. But she cannot hide from her past when the brother of her ex-fiance is murdered.
Startup founder Dave Jewell thought he needed one more cash infusion to launch his social shopping network. But when he finds blood on the frontend of his car, he is drawn to Jennifer for answers.
As Jennifer scurries to deliver the ransom, Dave uncovers damaging information about Jennifer while falling in love with her.
A hostage is taken. Dave must race against time to find his daughter while Jennifer avoids becoming the next piece of roadkill.
She headed down Trimble and turned left on Zanker. She needed to install a new fileserver. There was only one other car in the parking lot. She pulled next to it and hit the curb. Damn. She reversed it a bit and cut the engine.
A chilly gust blew dried leaves in a circle on the sidewalk. Jen locked her car and bent to examine the damage, a cracked spoiler. Her brand new Eclipse. She dropped her keys and spit on her finger to rub out the black scratch.
The car next to her stood higher and stretched over the sidewalk. That’s why she had misjudged. Her eyes widened. Dried brownish streaks flaked off the front of the grill. And there was no mud on the sidewalk. She picked off a flake and noticed a tuft of black hair pinched to the license plate holder.
Jen backed from the car and dropped her backpack. She must not scream. Drive away. Pretend she didn’t see it. Whose car was this?
She stooped to retrieve her keys. A pair of trousered legs met her on the way up. The scream erupted from her throat as strong hands clamped her wrists.
Steel grey eyes bore into hers. “Calm down. Stop fighting me. Are you here to install the NetApp?”
Jen’s breaths scattered from her throat. She tried to pull away, but the man, the CEO, the founder, Dave what’s his name, held her arms and brought her into the building.
“Let me go,” Jen cried. “I forgot something. I’m sorry. I can’t work today.”
“Look, it’s only a little front end damage. I know it’s a new car and everything. I’m sure insurance would take care of it.” He handed her the backpack.
He appeared calm, too calm to have blood on his car. Jen’s brain burst with silent screams. She forced herself to breathe evenly. Don’t be stupid. A CEO wouldn’t be driving a Camry.

Monday, November 21, 2011

NaNoMoWri Reflections

NaNoMoWri showed me I'm not a plotter. I went into NaNo month with a five pronged plot, and even though I finished my fifty thousand words in ten days, I became sick of my story. Writing felt like constructing a model kit. Glue this tab to that one. Construct the propeller assembly, then stick it on the wing assembly.

As I checked off my plot points and completed the scenes, I became more and more divorced from the characters. They were wooden. They did not belong to me, and I certainly didn't live their lives. Just actors across a stage, they flitted in and out of the pages. Their stomachs rumbled, their hearts dropped, their palms sweated, and chills ran down their spines. They bled and fought on schedule. Kissed or killed because the plot dictated it.

Can the story be saved? Yes. But I need to get away from it first. Then go back and rewrite. Let the characters go where they want, and who knows? Maybe they'll end up somewhere else. But I would have gone along with them and gotten to know them. And that takes time. Time to absorb their personalities, explore their desires, dig into their motivations, and discover their deepest secrets.

I started another story November 15. It's not a NaNo story. I'm up to 37K words, but I'm not racing the clock. I don't do character sheets, not really. I live the story, and daydream their backstories. I run scenes from their lives in my mind, and I dream their dreams. I cannot force the story out. It has to come to me organically. How to fake emotions on a schedule is a skill I do not have.

It was fun and I enjoyed it. The camaraderie was great. Would I do it again? It depends on whether I can resurrect my NaNo story or not. Will I ever get the enthusiasm back for those characters? Or did the NaNo  overdose inoculate me against them forever?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hit the big Five-O on NaNo Day 10

I just checked in at 50,196 words in the middle of my FMC's amnesia. I have no clue if this will remain after editing. But here it is, in the raw.

Kyra’s head felt like a blacksmith’s anvil. What was that pounding noise? She rolled over and opened her eyes. A cedar paneled room spun. Her mouth plastered to a lambskin, she pushed herself to a sitting position, but bent over immediately when her stomach turned. The pounding in her head intensified. Her legs would not cooperate and she collapsed on her way to the chamber pot. Whose house was she in? And where was Jery?

Kyra crawled on her hands and knees and threw up in the pot. She lay on the rug, breathing and waiting for her hands and feet to regain feeling. Was she trapped in a dream? The walls wove and shook. She rubbed the rug—richly textured and colorful. She was in a chamber of some sort, a richly decorated one with dark wooden furniture and a glittering mosaic on one wall.

She sat and rubbed her face. Her mouth tasted like dry wool. Why was she dressed in a silken robe? She patted her chest and side. Her weapons were missing. Stumbling to a table, she poured herself a cup of water from a glazed pitcher.

The door opened and three maids stepped in.

“My lady,” said the maid in front. “You’re awake. The master said to prepare you breakfast.”

“Where am I?”

“Mama,” Jery cried from the arms of another maid. She set him down and he ran to her bed, his cheeks ruddy and his eyes sparkling.

Kyra picked him up, but fell back into the arms of the maids when her legs wobbled. Kyra hugged the boy closely. Why couldn’t she remember how she arrived here?

“My baby’s healed. How did we get here?”

The first maid smiled and opened the windows. “You’ve been here a week. The master fetched Jery and took him to a doctor. You also fell ill and had a high fever. The master will be back any day now.”

Kyra relaxed and allowed the maids to bathe and dress her. She and Jery ate a delicious meal of barley cakes, toasted grain, and honeyed yogurt.

Something important nagged at Kyra’s mind. But Jery bounced in her lap and threw cake crumbs in her drink. Her dizziness receding, she spent the rest of the morning rolling a leather ball as he chased after it and threw it back at her.

Kyra tucked Jery into a plush cot for his nap. The door opened behind her and Baar stepped through. He opened his hands and smiled. “My dear, how are you feeling?”

Kyra stood carefully, the weakness had almost abated, but she was still a little unsteady. “I am well. What am I doing here?”

He took her elbow to steady her. “You mean you don’t remember?”

She blinked and tried to shake the fog from her mind. “No, well, maybe.”

He pressed her hand. “I’ve come to take the evening meal with you. Have you seen much of my house?”

“No, I’ve only been between the room I woke in and the nursery. Jery and I played a bit in the courtyard outside his door.”

“If you’re up for it, I’d like to show you after we eat. Are you sure you don’t remember anything?” His mellifluous voice caressed the edges of Kyra’s headache and soothed her.

“Baar, how long have we been friends?”  She didn't seem to recall how handsome he was. Strange. Did he really have gold-tipped eyelashes and a dimple on one side of his grin? His brownish red hair rippled like fall leaves strewn over a secluded walkway and Kyra wondered why she had thought him scruffy and uncouth.

He chuckled and led her into a dining room set for two. “I’m hurt that you don’t remember. We’re more than friends, Kyra.”

A sharp twinge poked Kyra’s ribs from the inside. “What are you saying?”

He sat her on down in front of him and leaned over the table. “You’re really hurting my feelings now.”

Kyra swallowed a lump and sucked in her cheeks. She grasped at threads in her mind, but like the hem of a fraying garment, the thoughts disintegrated before she could twist them together.

A servant set platters of poached fish, lentils, and quails with onion before them. Baar poured golden wine into a goblet and handed it to Kyra.

He toasted her and smiled. “To my wife. May your memories of our wedding return.”

Kyra dropped the goblet. It hurtled off the table and rolled onto the carpet.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NaNo Day 8 Summary

I'm pushing 40K as of last night, but do I feel good about it? The words run like spilled punch at the end of a drunken orgy, and the characters are just as wooden and stoned. There's a lot of activity, observations, and events, scurrying back and forth between point A, B, and C. Characters pop in and out like Whack-a-Mole, and gobble words like Hungry Hippos. But where's the depth, the meaningful look, the lingering touch? What about the trailing water off the end of a leaf, the damp, fertile earth between the toes, and the last ray of sunlight under a seagull's wing?

So I race onward and slam my story together with violence, blood, and endless perils. Events on a page of a history book, a filled in character sketch, connect the dots of the plot points, pinch points, and climaxes. But it is all dead. Dead words. Mechanical words to be replaced and refined organically, as a seed germinates, and the sprout pokes its downy head from the warm, moist soil and grows in the year to come.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Purple Gems - Part 1

I thought I'd share some deep purple phrases I struck on this editing pass. I labeled it part 1, because I'm sure I have more. These babies won't ever see the light of a pixel, so here you go.

David loved her so much that his heart burst into shards of penetrating pain.

My heart pounding as fast as the drum rolls, and my nerves screaming higher than the pitch of the chants, I looked to David for reassurance.

I swallowed large gulps of air as torrential sobs tore through my throat.

His gentle tone, with a dash of daring, held a tinge of bitterness.

My mind clouded with a maelstrom of anguish. Reeling, dizzy, spinning, crazy.

The door shut. It rattled against the wind, chattering like the bones of a corpse.

His mouth bruised my tongue, and the stubble of his beard rasped my cheeks, plowing tart, tingling stings into the edge of my lips.

… that ripped rhythmic feral screams out of my throat, louder and faster than the insistent drumbeat

I wonder if my editor will let me keep: The wind and rain howled like a thousand dying women.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNo Novel and Excerpt

It's day two and I'm at 7244 words. Wrote the first kiss today (the excerpt). Fair warning, it is all unedited.


The epoch was 1000 B.C. Kyra lived with a band of mercenaries in the badlands between Philistia and Israel.
Kyra thought she'd be the next chief. She'd trained hard, mastered weaponry and horsemanship. She even passed the manhood ceremony at the head of her class.
But the day Kyra killed the wild boar and earned his tusks, she found out she was female. Female? As in a woman? A whore? That was even lower than the eunuch she believed herself to be.
Along with her newfound identity come a host of trouble and the possibility of love. Stripped of dignity, humiliated and abused, Kyra struggles against a fierce enemy, one who is bent on subjugating her and claiming the tribe for himself.


A fresh footprint in the mud raised the hairs on the back of her neck. She scanned the dense underbrush and unsheathed her knife. Gripping the knife between her teeth, she dropped to her hands and knees and closed in on the tent. She might have heard a snore. She’d surprise him. She almost dropped her knife while smiling.
A flash of white swung toward her face. Kyra gasped and the knife fell, greeted by the husky laughter of a man. A bouquet of white lilies lay on the ground right under the knife.
“What do you think you’re doing sneaking up on my tent?” Niko held out his hand.
“Your tent? What are you doing camped so far from the troop?”
He pulled her to her feet. “I’m a man now, and I need my privacy.”
“You’re fifteen, and need I remind you, you have not made the boar kill yet.”
Niko fingered the tusk around Kyra’s neck. “But I have bested the holder of the boar’s tusk in a fight.”
Kyra slapped his hand. “Don’t touch my tusk. Next time, I’m going twist those jewels of yours off and you’ll be just like me.”
He closed in. “And how’s that like, to be you?”
Kyra stepped back, right into a tree trunk. Niko’s calloused hand touched her face. She drew in a shocked breath. His eyes were half-closed, his long lashes arched and fluttered, and he looked at her… as if… he cared?
Niko was the strongest and most robust of the boys in the camp and excelled at all sport. And he was also the quickest to point out her deficiencies and lead the others to tease and ostracize her. Many nights, Kyra had cried herself to sleep, excluded from the inner circle of well-endowed boys, those with natural gifts, the future great warriors.

He tilted her chin, his gaze exploring her face, as if she were an exquisite jewel. Why was this beautiful man, his strong, bronze man with the sturdy jaw and high-bridged nose looking at her so dreamily?
He pressed her against the tree, his legs on both sides of hers, his elbows at her head, and his hot breath fanning the top of her head. Kyra pushed his chest, urging her arms to give him a quick shove. But her fingers flexed over his hard pectorals. She exhaled, a little too sharply. She’d never have a chest like his, and the scent, musky and aromatic, like smoky lilies in a pine forest. She fanned her palms over his chest and moved to the planes of his muscular abdomen.
Oh, to not be a freak. She wanted what he had. She closed her eyes. If she could pretend she was manly, strong, hairy, able to whip a broadsword without raising sweat. If she could leap onto a horse without grabbing its neck…
A warm, firm hand caressed the back of her neck, and a set of tender lips descended on hers. Kyra should have pushed, she should have ducked, she should have at least struggled. But the lips enveloped hers, and the ground shook beneath her, and her fingers tightened over the sides of his rocking hips.
Reason flew away, as she opened her mouth and tasted his honeyed, cinnamon breath. She explored the warm recesses of his mouth and sparred and jockeyed with him for possession of his tongue, probing deeper and fighting a loving duel of lips and teeth. He slipped a warm hand under her leather breastplate and untied it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Self-Edit Checklist

Tool: To highlight problematic words or phrases for examination. Use Word's Find/Replace. Replace with "Format->Highlight". Set your Highlight color to a color other than "Clear". Replace the same word with the Highlighted version.

Content Pass:

I first read through my crits and look for plot holes and logic problems such as lack of linearity, scrambled cause and effect and any place your critters marked "huh?".

Then I create a spreadsheet, listing each scene, POV character, summary of what is happening, characters, sensory details, emotions, time/date/setting. I also use color coding to highlight the tension level: Red, Orange, Yellow on the POV character cell. Other colors I use are: Green - advance Protag objective, Blue - Opposition, Pink - Love scene, Beige - Characterization scene

The final column is time/date/setting. This is very important if you have pregnancies, and other external events you have to track.

Once I have the beat sheet, I can look for plot holes. Are the preconditions for a particular event correct? Who should have known what? Did enough time elapse for the baby to be born? How about the season? Do my descriptions match? i.e. weather, temperature, holidays?

My current story is fairly linear, so all I needed was a linear scene list. My next story has four interleaved plot lines. I will use a two dimensional table. The vertical axis is time, the horizontal is marked by the POV character. Obviously I can only describe the event in each cell and link it to a separate linear list of scenes. Can you tell I'm an engineer? Okay, onto the next pass. [Psst: to be honest, I have not finished filling in all the emotions and sensory details for each scene, nor have I completed the scene list to the end.]

Character Pass:

Now that I have the beat sheet. I pick a POV character and visit each scene for that character in sequence. I get into the mood by imagining I'm the character. I think about how things would look from her POV, and what her feelings are. I immerse myself as much as I can without going off the deep end (cliche). I then iterate with a different POV character, allowing a little downtime to get out of character. It gets a bit harder to be the antagonist after being the protagonist for a week or two.

While in character, I check each scene for POV slips. I also deepen the POV when appropriate. This is where my color coded tension chart comes in handy. If the tension is Red and Orange, the POV needs to be deep. If the POV is yellow, I think it is okay to draw back a bit. I'm a fan of Deep POV, but too much Deep-stream-of-consciousness follow-the-character's-nose-prose can feel like hammers pounding on the rooftop.

Read each line of dialogue aloud and pretend you're the actor trying for the role. Reword and simplify. This shouldn't be hard since you are, at the moment, the POV character. But you also need review the dialogue of the non POV characters at this time.

To Deepen POV, I highlight all filter words, "knew", "smell", "taste", "saw", "felt". I also watch for "telling emotions." Are you naming the emotion or showing the results of an emotion?

BEFORE: Joy turned her insides into a song.
AFTER: She hummed a perky melody as she brushed her long flowing tresses. Yes! She got the contract. Her insides bubbly, she flipped her hair over her shoulders and gave herself a high-five on the mirror.

About Internal Monologue: I'm not too good with internal monologue, and I usually have to go back and add it in. My critters tell me I'm too cinematic. They ask questions about narrator motivations. I have an allergy to internal monologue because I think it is "telling", and in a sense it is "telling". But they are useful and sometimes needed, especially at transition points.

I look over the crits and see if there are areas where motivation seem to be lacking and I supply a few lines of internal thoughts. I scatter them out. The only place in my current WIP that has a lot of it is in the dungeon scene. Even then, it doesn't last too long. I prefer to subtext and let readers figure out what the characters are thinking. I also like to rely on nonverbal communication and body language. BUT... like everything in writing, internal monologue has its place.

If you do the Character Pass correctly, it covers "showing versus telling." Description is also covered because you are in the character's mind and hence the description is through their senses.

Story Structure Pass:

Many will say this should have been done a lot earlier, during story planning, and they are right. I'm assuming you have already planned your story structure,and you know when the plot turns are, the midpoint, the pinch points and the climax and aftermath.

What I'm doing here is to see if I have the right balance of narrative passages and active scenes. It is okay to have narrative passages, i.e., during transitions and to jump from one place to another. But the high points demand active scenes. Check your beat sheet and mark the plot turns, pinch points, and climaxes. Now, go back and see if you want to expand a scene, supercharge the emotion, or change the tenor of the description

Line and Grammar Pass:

1. Introductory Present Participial Phrases (Highlight "ing") and Present Participial Phrases in general
[check to make sure you are time sequenced correctly, check for misplaced modifiers]

2. Adverb Usage (Highlight "ly") [Examine each adverb and see if it is really needed] Some people examine suffixes such as "ish", "ful", "ment"

3. List of Useless Words: just, really, very, nearly, almost, occasionally, actually, moreover, suddenly, probably, somewhat, sometimes, especially

Make your own list or check:

4. Some people check for "was" and "had", but I don't. "was" doesn't always mean passive. "had" is necessary for past perfect

5. Highlight "eyes", "nose", "nostrils", "hand", "leg", etc. to look for flying body parts.

His eyes scanned the room. -> His gaze scanned over the room. -> He scanned the room.
A putrid odor pierced his nostrils. -> A putrid odor filled the room, and he held his nose.
He raised his hand to pat the dog. -> He patted the dog.

6. Check for unusual dialogue tags. Eliminate whenever possible.

7. Things that rank high on an editor's annoyance-meter: "Smile", "laugh", "sigh", "chuckle". Are your eyebrows always arched or drawn, or constantly raking your hair? How about clearing throats, shrugging shoulders, or fluttering hearts? Or a surplus of tears and sweat? Or chills, shivers and quivers? Some people check for animal sounds, "growl", "roar", "howl", "purr".

8. Check for cliche's and overused phrases. You can use Autocritter, or Serenity Software Editor program or simply read through and look for echoes.

Not all echoes are bad. There is the technique of "Amplification" - repeating a word or phrase and adding more detail in order to emphasize a point. There is "Anadiplosis" - repeating the last word of a sentence at the beginning of the next or near the beginning of the next sentence, and "Anaphora" - repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of three more more successive phrases or sentences, "Conduplicatio" - starting a sentence with a key word from a previous sentence, "Epistrophe" - repeating the last word or final phrase in three of more subsequent phrases or sentences, "Epizeuxis" - the simple repetition of a word for emphasis, and the champion of repetition "Symploce" - using Anaphora and Epistrophe in the same sentence!

But... okay, that was a long winded way to say, if you echo, make sure you did it on purpose and have a fancy Latin name to go with it.

9. Check for correct time sequencing, and MRUs (Motivation-Reaction-Units). The action must precede the response.

He kicked the door shut while carrying her over the threshold. -> He carried her over the threshold and kicked the door shut.

This is where being cinematic helps. Play through your scene as if it was on a movie screen. Note the actions, reactions, and sequence of events. Words like "as", "when", "during", "while" and present participial phrases oftentimes signal simultaneous actions. Make sure a set of actions can truly happen in parallel.

10. Grammar check. By now you should probably know what your weaknesses are. Do you run sentences together, or do you add too many unnecessary commas? Do you confuse words. i.e. you're and your, their and there?

One last note. Each writer's style is unique. Don't be tempted to edit out all of your personality and quirks. And most of all, don't apply a rule just because someone told you to. Make sure you understand how the context changes when you apply a rule. Sometimes, it is just not what the story needs.

Other checklists:

For further study:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood: This is The End, Beautiful Friend*

Good discussions about ending a story.

Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood: This is The End, Beautiful Friend*: Note: This article contains SPOILERS for the following films/novels: The Perfect Storm, Little Women, The Age of Innocence, Gone With the...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Signed up for NaNo

As if I didn't have enough to do, I just signed up to write 50,000 words in November. I'm running through the last of my self-editing for Michal's Window. But I'm afraid I can't leave well enough alone. I have promised myself, no more plot changes, no more love scenes, no more mayhem, injuries, cat-fights, and deaths. And definitely no more wives for David nor handsome foreign men for Michal.

So I need an outlet, and I need to create, and I need NaNo now! Fortunately I have a plot and an alpha babe to write about. This babe is so alpha she thinks she's a male. She grew up with a troop of warriors, mercenaries, renegades, bandits, or outlaws. She's the chief's son, or so she thinks.

This story will be a challenge to choreograph. Five plot threads will be woven together. The heroine, the father, the lover boy, the abused widow, and da, da, da, da!!! The villain. Yes, I will finally have a real villain to work with. And he's going to be a bad ass, bad boy, bad, bad, bad.

I haven't decided on genre yet. I will let the story come out first. I've written the plot points for the five POV characters using Dan Well's simple 7 point structure: Hook, Plot Turn 1, Pinch 1, Midpoint, Pinch 2, Plot Turn 2, Resolution. His lecture can be found on YouTube.

So, any of you doing NaNo? How ready are you?

Friday, October 21, 2011

edittorrent: Enjambment in fiction

edittorrent: Enjambment in fiction: More paragraphing stuff-- well, also about dialogue. And introspection. There is music in the way we think and talk. Even the non-melodic ...

Now I know why I resisted removing these "echoes" my critique buds pointed out. :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Choosing an Editor

I've had some friends ask me what criteria I used to select my editor. I knew I needed one, but I had no clue what editing meant. I contacted editors and sent my writing to them for a sample edit. I received varied responses from brief comma-corrections, to a thoughtful and detailed critique and analysis of my sample.

I soon learned that editing meant different things to different people. Here are the categories, from most basic to highly developed.

  • Copy editing: basic grammar and punctuation. A sentence might not make sense, but if it is grammatically correct, then the editor will leave it alone. Let's look at the following sentence.
Beraiah launched into another jump, clearing a creek and splashing to the other side.
A copy editor would look at it and debate whether to use an Oxford comma or not. She would not worry about the presence of two present participials and whether they make sense in time sequence or not. There is very little judgment call involved.
  • Line editing: As the name suggests, the editor will look at lines of prose and work on sentence structure, tone, style, word choice and overall flow. Taking the sentence above, the line editor would wonder whether it might be better corrected as.
Beraiah launched into another jump and cleared the creek before splashing on the other side.
Beraiah launched into another jump, cleared the creek, and splashed to the other side. 
They might also look for overused words, echoes, mis-used words, and trim redundant words, look for readability issues like buried dialogues, overuse of introductory present participial phrases (PPP), misplaced modifiers and proper paragraph breaks.

  • Content Editing: Now we're talking your story. A content editor will look beyond the writing as a piece of prose and analyze elements such as point of view, adverb usage, showing vs. telling, and comment on pacing, characters, flashbacks and back story, and suggest places to cut and areas to expand. The content editor will also critique for character motivations, emotional tells, unclear point of view, stylistic issues, use of cliches, either too much or too little description, plot holes, unexplained settings, and other story issues. They would also notice sentences that, while grammatically correct, make no sense. Take the following example:
The wind blew through the tree-lined path, casting moving shadows in the moonlight.
A content editor would notice that even though the sentence is grammatically correct, the wind does not cast shadows and ask you to rewrite or maybe not, if she decides the sentence fits poetically with the mood of the scene. 
More importantly than sentence analysis, she may suggest rewrites where your story structure is weak, or your plot does not hold up. A content editor understands how to write and critique a story. She has to be creative and artistic to not only see what is in front of her, but to envision how the story could be better.

  • Developmental Editing: The editor may work with you before you've even written the story. She will help with theme, premise, concept, setting up the plot points, and even ghostwrite. Most of us cannot afford this level of editing. So I only include this for completeness.
There is also proofreading, but this is done after all edits are completed and usually involves a sharp-eyed person who looks for typos, formatting errors, and obvious punctuation errors.

Once I understood the levels of editing, I was able to compare the samples, as well as the competitiveness of the pricing. A copy edit should be priced less than a content edit. The answers to the quiz sentences combined with the sample edit showed which level of editing the editor was considering.

Here are the sample sentences (with an introductory and trailing PPP added for good measure):

Before: Beraiah launched into another jump, clearing a creek and splashing to the other side. 

After: Beraiah launched into another jump, cleared a creek, and splashed to the other side.
B: Chileab stopped to look at his fingernails after dropping his spear.

A: Chileab dropped his spear and stopped to examine his fingernails
B: “Who, what?” Confused voices craned for answers.

A: "Who, what?" Confused voices clamored for answers.
B: In an instant of time, David caught the king’s piercing look and dodged. A whoosh passed his head and the thud cracked the wall where he had been.

A: David caught the king's piercing look and ducked. Something whooshed past his ear. Too close. The king's spear cracked the wall with a sharp thud.
B: The wind blew through the tree-lined path, casting moving shadows in the moonlight.

A: I chose to keep this sentence because all the alternatives were too stilted and awkward.

[babies cry]
B: Putting Jonathan’s treasures on the table, I stumbled to the cradles, Ittai following close behind. [she stumbles because she just found out her father and all her brothers are dead.]

A: I set Jonathan's treasures on the table and stumbled to their cradles. [We can assume Ittai followed because he admires the babies next.]

I'm happy to say that I found an editor to work with. She not only marked up the sample, but she provided comments that explained why she changed something, as well as detailed comments with suggestions and critiques. She's doing Nanomowri and starts Dec. 1, so I have about six weeks to enhance the description, deepen the POV, and heighten the emotion before sending it to her.

Here's a article comparing copy editing and content editing.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Who's your Firstee? You know, your first one?

Who was the first person to finish your first work of fiction? Who patted you on the back and encouraged you when you thought to give up? Who helped you think through a gnarly plot hole? Or picked you up from a head-banging crit?

And who guards your characters and dares you to mess with them?

Your firstee, your first and foremost critter and defender, the one who believes in you.

Mine is Melisa Hamling--energetic, enthusiastic, endearing, and an awesome writer and friend. Her book is about a sensitive topic, but she pulls it off with charm, grit, and humor. I met her on Critique Circle. I got addicted to her story, Twenty Weeks, and in turn kept her out of bed with my fifty odd chapters and revisions. And when she got to the end, she gave me the most intense feeling of satisfaction and gratification this side of the keyboard. The thought that someone actually waded through my morass of prose is both humbling and stirring. She left this parting remark on the final chapter of Michal's Window.
I. AM. SPEECHLESS. There is a lump in my throat. My nose is runny and my eyes are wet. Absolutely, without a doubt, YOU MUST not CHANGE this last chapter! It's perfect....and beautiful! And I cried! And rejoiced as I read the Epilogue.
Melisa, I thank you. You are now part of my story. This book is yours as much as mine. Thank you for taking this journey with me and being my firstee.

So, who is your firstee? I'd like to hear. As for me, I'll keep critting, and someday I'll be someone's firstee.

Why I decided to Indie Pub and find an Editor

It is truly exciting to participate in the emerging field of indie publishing. It's wild and woolly out there. But hey, that's the fun of being caught in the tornado.

So I have a draft, I ran it through Critique Circle and beat it in shape with the help of a group of enthusiastic and colorful critters. Yeah, don't worry. I'll name you so you can share the blame.

But now, the crucial next step. Do I clean it up, write query letters and look for an agent? Maybe wait months and years crawling like a snail to seek validation from Wall Street? Oops, wrong place. Or do I get it in the hands of the consumer, the reader, and let the market decide?

If I had tried this thirty years ago, before Cisco routers built the information superhighway, before the Internet changed the way we live, work, or play, before Amazon and Kindle and iPad and Nook, I would have had no choice. The start-up costs could not have been borne by an individual with limited funds.

Which leads me to indie pubbing. But is it totally cost free? It can be, if you're multi-faceted talented and drink lots of cold coffee. I've met successful authors who have done it all from scratch: writing, editing, doing the cover art, making the trailer, proofreading, formatting, blogging and marketing. And they have my complete admiration.

But I want, make that need, to have another pair of eyes on my writing. Grammar programs have too many false positives or outright mistakes. I've tried them. I've pulled out my hair wondering why a certain checker wants me to put semi-colons when the second clause is not independent. Another program forces you to wade through too many false-positives. Nothing could possibly substitute for a human eye. Yeah, you're probably nodding your head, given the state of this blog post. [psst: she needs an editor, make that two or three.]

Which human eye? Ah, that is the rub, isn't it? As in any wild and woolly emerging ecosystem, the claims have not been staked, and the players have not been vetted. Anyone can hang out a shingle or set up a webpage and call themselves an editor. I ask my crit buddies, and they give me leads. I submit a sample and receive an edited sample. But is this enough? I don't know. I haven't selected an editor. There are really good ones who are booked to the moon, and there are emerging ones who have potential. But in the lifecycle of your book, this is one of the most important hires you'll make. Yeah, about as important as a midwife or nanny. Pick your pain. I'll be back in a later blog post.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My daughter's kitty reminds me of Michal.

See how playful she is? And look at those gorgeous green eyes.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Michal's Window, Cast of Characters

I should have done this earlier, but here it is. I'm sure I'm missing someone, but I'll update as I go.

Cast of Characters

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Map of Israel around the time of King Saul and King David.A larger version can be found by clicking on the map.