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