Monday, April 30, 2012

A to Z Challenge: ZzzzzzZzzzzz

And.... We've reached Z! Congrats, lovelies!


Steven King wrote in his epically awesome book On Writing that you should aim to take at least a tenth (or something like that) out of your story when you edit. While I'm more of an editing adder, I see the reason behind his words. That 10% of what we wrote are all the boring bits.

The things that our readers will skip in order to stay awake for the rest of the story. The bits that add no value to the story.

They all have to go. Every. Single. One.

Getting rid of some of those scenes really hurt, sometimes. Some of them might even be favorites. But if they don't add to the story and if they're just boring, they have to go.

My rule of thumb when it comes to getting rid of boring scenes:

If they're more than 70% boring, you have to get rid of them, redistributing the 30% so that they have meaning in the story. If they're 50-70% boring, you need to cut out the bits that make the scene boring.

Once your work is zzzzz-free, you'll see most of your pacing issues disappearing. As will a lot of sagging middle problems. AND! Your story will be more exciting.

Win-win, right?

Look Out for These:

1) Crit partners of betas pointing out boring parts.

2) Any parts that were dealt with earliers and that reveal nothing new that's of importance.

3) Any parts that don't fulfill a valuable function in the story. You don't have to get rid of all of them, but if the read is stalling, you might want to cut out a few of these.

How do you spot boring bits that have to go?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A to Z Challenge: You're at the End


This post is one that I'm actually not going to write, because I've never been there.

Instead, I'm going to ask our more experienced writers:

How do you know that your edits are finished and you need to stop?

Friday, April 27, 2012

A to Z Challenge: X Things to Remember

Today I'm just going to do ten things worth remembering in edits/revisions. Yes, I know. Genius use of the letter X.

i) Always take time away from your ms before starting an editing/revision round.
ii) Crit partners can be the difference between an okay ms and an excellent one.
iii) Parents, best friends and other family members are great for support, but not for critiquing.
iv) Edits/revisions are a lot of work, but are rewarding. But only if you remind yourself of this fact.
v) Know where the story is headed by revisions.
vi) Revise first, then edit, starting with the big things before going to the small.
vii) Make sure you keep the original of every edit round before you edit. If you don't like the new changes, you can track back.
viii) If your written words look like gibberish, it's time for a break.
ix) No matter what someone says in a crit, you know more about what's right for your story. Go with your gut.
x) Yes. Edits do come to an end. Promise.

What's your advice when it comes to edits?

A to Z Challenge: World Building

Almost as promised, here's the post on World Building.

I believe that whether or not you write a form of speculative fiction, you will have to engage in some degree of world building to make your story believable. You might have to create a fictional town. Or disguise a real one (Gotham City, anyone?). Otherwise, you might simply bend the real world rules a little in to make them fit the purposes of the story.

Because of this, I'm going to address two types of world building. Spec fic and non spec fic.

If you're not writing spec fic, or only want to gloss over reality a little, you'll need to put time in to research as much about the location and time of your story as possible. Especially if you don't live in the location or time that you're writing about. And the more you research, the better.

BUT remember, you're looking for a feel for the place/time so that you can write a piece of fiction. You're not writing a text book. So if you've written blocks and blocks of information with minute details of everything, you might have to cut back. It's sort of similar to what I said about using senses. Characters aren't going to list the histories/descriptions/cultural impact of every single thing the see and experience. Rather, we the readers want to feel everything through the character. Show the impact of certain things. Show what they mean. Don't list them and go on and on about minute details.

Special bonus for historical fiction writers: Anachronisms are incredibly annoying, so make damned sure that the things used/referred to by characters existed/happen in the time of your story. NOTHING annoys me more than reading a western where badass gunslingers use the colt peacemaker three years before it existed. And yes. I know when it did or didn't exist. Other people will too. Keep your dates straight. If you absolutely must bend the dates to suit the story, please remember to make note of it in a foreword or something. That way, you show that you're not an idiot, and (possibly more importantly) that you don't think the reader's an idiot.

Spec fic, on the other hand, sets world building on a whole new level. More often than not, the world of your fantasy/steampunk/sci fi/urban fantasy/dystopian/horror/etc. etc. story will be foreign to your readers. And if your readers can't place themselves in the world of your story, you already lost the battle.

When it comes to my spec fic stories, I try to know more than what goes into the book. Note: MORE. Not everything. Every single thing doesn't have to go in. Important things go in. And not always in a clearly outlined way. Let's say that amongst other things, your world randomly loses gravity. I wouldn't suggest that you necessarily go into the depths of why, unless it's important. The same for the cultures that you create. Remember, most spec fic characters already live in the world that you've created. So they won't be explaining things to themselves or others. At least not all the time. There's a fine balance between enlightening the readers and boring them with too much detail. Make sure that you stay on that line.

Taking the world rules a little further.... Natural laws should exist as natural LAWS. Same with the rules of your magic system. Or your cultural norms, rules and regulations. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES let your characters break any of the above without them being aware of the fact, without an explanation, and without potentially huge (and hugely negative) repercussions. Especially, don't let them do it to save the day. If you do, you're undermining the credibility of your own story. These rules should be the frame that keeps everything in your story structured and believable. You can't ignore them for convenience sake. It will make your story collapse like a house of cards. If the world rules create a problem for the story, you have two options: either rewrite the rules (and revise the whole story to fit them) or go look for a solution that fits and even comes out of the rules. See my P post for more info on that.

On a lighter note, having a fantasy world helps to set the mood of the story, if you use your world right. You have the joy of creating something special and unique. It's one of the few forms of pure creation. So have a blast!

Look Out for These:

1) In both: Over-telling on the world/time, boring the reader and making everything seem unrealistic. Under-informing the reader, making them wonder how things work.

2) Non-Spec fic: Anachronisms, not knowing enough to get the feel of the time/place right.

3) Spec fic: World rules that are broken.

What do you love/hate about world building in your genre?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Will do the real post early tomorrow

Hi... yes, I know that this isn't something to do with the A to Zs of edits and revisions, but for some reason, I'm not able to string together the thoughts required to write the post I want.

So rather than doing something useless, I'm letting you know that the real post will be on world building, and that it will be online tomorrow morning, in approximately 8 - 10 hours. So don't miss it. ;-)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Verbs

I know I know. V is for Verbs is not very original when it comes to the A to Zs of editing and revisions. Still, it's way too important to skip. In fact, the way I think of verbs in edits is sort of a massive category, so we'll have to see how much ground I can cover. I think to keep things... relatable, I'm going to do this by function - according to my convoluted thinking, at least.

Firstly, verbs indicate action. Actions by your character, actions to your character. Yes people, I'm talking about active vs. passive sentences. Far be it from me to say that passive tense must NEVER be included anywhere in a story. (I guess I should have mentioned with every post that nothing is written in stone... oops.) But. Too much passive tense will have the reader wondering why they're rooting for a hero that lets the universe randomly do stuff to him when the baddie is out there doing things. If you read through your work and notice too many: "Something WAS done BY someone/something else." sentences, you might want to work on getting more active tense in. Remember: put the emphasis on the most important thing. More often than not, that will be your characters. So put them first in the sentence.

No. I am not saying "'was' is evil and should die a slow death". In fact, ask my CPs. I adore "was" in all its forms. But verbs also describe actions. And sadly, "was" is... somewhat generic. As are verbs like: look, walk, have, say and so on. Yes, these verbs tell us what someone is doing, but are they telling us how? No. And that's why adverbs sneak into writing, because suddenly they're necessary to describe how the character is doing something. Do you say something angrily? No. You grind it out between your teeth. Do you walk insolently? No... you saunter. So make sure as many verbs as possible carry enough weight to describe as well. Get it? Got it? Good. Next. (Notice: I'm not saying adverbs are evil.)

Next, verbs can indicate time. Yep... There is more than one way to use a past tense. So if your story is written in past tense, make sure that things happening before the exact point in your story are referred to in past perfect. I.e. not "I ate" but "I had eaten." Or better. "I had munched." if that's exactly what your character did. There are many other little changes that happen when characters or narration have to refer to something happening in the past, so I strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with them when editing.

In addition, verbs agree with their subjects. So no "He say's" or "They does's" unless it's in dialogue or you're going for a specific flavor in your narrative.

Verbs also lend meaning to a sentence. So sometimes, the way you use a verb can change what a sentence means. For example: "I remembered to do my homework." and "I remembered doing my homework." Yes, they might look like they mean the same thing, but depending on context, the first implies that the homework isn't done, while the second implies that it was done (possibly at some point in the more distant past). This can depend on context and feel a lot, so keep an eye out.

Finally, verbs can indicate things happening at the same time. "Doing one thing, he did another." Nothing wrong with that, but I find that sentence structure addictive. It's a lazy way to show things happening at the same time. As supposed to being more inventive. So... those sentences can riddle a writer's works like weeds. Another one (and I've heard that it can be a red flag for agents) is when a writer indicates two things occurring at the same time, when they're physically impossible. "Standing with his cup of coffee, he sat down." or "Driving home, he got out of the car." Those ones, you have to look out for, because they're incredibly annoying to read.

Look Out for These:

1) Generic verbs and repetition that lessens the depth of your words.  

2) Passive tense and gerunds changing the meaning of a sentence or story.

3) Tenses and concurrent happenings that don't make sense.

What is your vice when it comes to verbs?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Use All Senses

There's more to telling a story than simply relaying events to a reader in chronological (or whichever you prefer) order.

No, readers need to be drawn in. They need to share experiences with the story's characters. That can't really be done if the reader can't get a sense of what's going on around the characters.

Where are they?

What are they seeing?

Touching? How does it feel?

What are they smelling?

What are they hearing? How clearly?

I'm not saying that I'm looking for five pages of pure description. But still, hinting at a characters surroundings would be good. Otherwise we readers have nothing but a thick white mist around the characters in our mind.

So how does one do that? Especially since writers can't use pages of description?

By having the character notice things. Not a million things at the same time. Just the most immediately pressing ones in tense situations. So seeing and feeling, most likely.

If a situation is more relaxed, people tend to notice more. And so should your character. Only don't make it obvious. Think of how you perceive things. Do you make a point of making a list of every single thing about a new room? Most likely not. But certain things will catch your eye. Like a window glinting. Or a scatter cushion being out of place. Something like that.

The same for the other senses. Your character won't try to take stock of every tiny little thing. But something will stand out. A high pitched whistle. The smell of unwashed bodies. The dry, almost gritty taste of smoke.

Always remember two things:

1) It's about balance. Never focus on only one sense at a time. But don't use all of them at the same time either, unless the situation is overwhelmingly strong. Or if you character has keen powers of observation.

2) Quality over quantity. Too much description can slow a story to a halt, so rather go for well chosen and well blended moments that mean more and put a reader firmly in the story.

Look Out for These:

1) "White" scenes where the characters don't react to or interact with their surroundings.

2) Pages and pages of meaningless description.

3) A lack of certain senses in description. Especially taste and smell, since they seem to be neglected the most.

Which senses do you forget about in description? Do are you a minimalist when it comes to description? Or do you have to restrain yourself?

Monday, April 23, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Telling

Depending on your style of writing, telling can kill the reader's experience. After all, if the reader is trying to immerse him/herself in the world of a book, having the writer tell them how or why something happened can be singularly annoying.

To my mind, there are two ways to tell in writing. Both are bad for my style, although I know that having an omniscient narration changes things. Point is, if you don't, these two are definitely priority things to fix.

The first way to tell is in the way you describe things and actions. In a story, the reader needs to experience everything through the point of view character. So suddenly having a generic sort of sentence telling them something doesn't work.

What will fit better? (Assuming that the character isn't a boring sort of person.)

The plate had a blue pattern on it.


The plate's rich blue pattern told the age old story of star-crossed lovers fleeing together in search of a chance together.

Yeah yeah, I know that neither is Shakespeare, but I think you get the point.

The other tell would be in narrative. Don't tell everything. Account for everything, yes, but not in such a way that reveals everything immediately. Because if you do that, you lose a lot of tension. And as you know, tension is one thing you don't want to lose.

So if something important is happening, make sure that you make the event noticeable, but it's usually quite important that the reader can't figure out what will happen because of that event. Predictability is not your friend.

When editing both types of tells, the secret is in wrapping the information in a lovely veil of words that will either decorate or disguise what you're trying to say. But for heaven's sake, don't be obscure.

Look Out for These:

1) Phrases like: he saw, he thought, she felt, it tasted. Anything that puts a distance between the character's and reader's experiences of the same thing. Also: something was (insert description) or he/she/it had (insert description).

2) Having a character over-narrate, revealing the importance of something before its time.

3) Back-story that's dumped in huge chunks that aren't naturally flowing from the story.

Got any tips for cutting telling out of narration?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A to Z Challenge: String Theory

No matter how we write, at some point, we will have a completed draft that will require revisions and edits. Multiple rounds.

And this is where string theory comes in (and yes, I know it's not the same as its use in physics). It's incredible how much everything in a draft is connected

So, if you change something in the story, it might have an immense impact on the rest of what you've written. Or maybe it's just in my writing, but everything I write down either directly or indirectly means something later. Because of that, when you need to add something in, I strongly suggest that you put a lot of thought into how far that string goes. Otherwise, the reader might be pulled out of the story for one of hundreds of reasons, depending on the nature of the string.

Conversely, if you take something out, you need to make dead certain that every sign of its existence is removed from the story. For example, if you take a character (let's call him Jim) out. Anything that Jim did has to be removed or reassigned to other characters. And every sign of the remaining characters ever being aware of Jim's existence has to be taken away.

And removing things that characters did can really weaken the plot, so tread carefully. Don't assume that one round of edits will be enough. Changing things to the plot after rewrites are done can have a huge impact.

I was still finding loosened strings five edit rounds after I added things or took them away.

So keep an eye out for strings that came loose because of previous editing rounds....

Look Out for These:

1) Names of characters no longer existing in the story being mentioned.

2) Orphan chapters. Chapters that no longer connect fully to the plot because of changes you made.

3) Plot holes forming because you took the explanation away.  

Do you keep track of the strings of your story as you edit? How do you do it?

Friday, April 20, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Raising Stakes

On N-day, I mentioned that raising the stakes make a huge difference to the middle of a book, but that I'd do another post about it. Well, today is that day.

Stakes make a difference, because stakes keep the tension in a story as tight as you want it to be.

Think of it as a poker game. The more you put into the pot, the greater your stake will be in winning the game. It becomes more important to you. If you put $500 into the pot,  the game will be really tense, but not as tense as putting $50000 in. And DEFINITELY not as tense as putting in the last $50000 that you own. The first is pretty big situation, the second bigger. The last is life changing.

Ideally speaking, you want the story to start as the poker players (your characters) are about to start playing. And then, with every game, they increase their bets, increasing their stakes in each game (chapter). If you really want to get things tense, you can lock each player in and let someone else (the bad character, perhaps?) increase the bets for them.

The reason why I say this is ideal is because the reader gets to know the character before all hell breaks loose. So they know who the character is. Then as the stakes increase, we get to know them better. We learn to care about them and how they react to challenges. And then just as the reader gets to the middle and thinks the character can't take more, that final $50000 game starts. The life changer. The one that will ultimately change that character - for better or worse - forever. That's good reading.

Sometimes, though, the poker game is longer than others. For example in a series, there might be a few big rounds towards the end of each book. Rounds so big that the reader thinks that it's the life changer. But the real life changer will occur in the last book. Otherwise, why would the reader bother sitting through the stories after that?

So, if your middle is sagging, odds are that it's because none of your characters are making any bets. There's nothing happening to make the reader worry about what the character stands to lose. And that's a huge problem when your story is about to go towards the climax. After all, the climax is about where the character wins or loses the most.

Make sure that the reader can sense what's at stake. You don't need to spell it out. Just make it big enough to spot. Hint at the possible results of failure. And of success. And above all, give them a feeling of the odds.

And then for maximum tension: In the life changing round of the poker game that is your character's story, force them to go for the royal flush.

Look Out for These:

1) Middle sagging because you either put the stakes too high too early, or didn't raise the stakes.

2) Undefined stakes.

3) CPs and betas doubting why they should be caring.

What's your approach to stakes in a story?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Quarrels and High Emotions

Stories without changes in emotion really feel bland and monotonous when you're forced to read through it.

And nothing spices up reading like a scene with tension and high emotions between characters. It just makes things more interesting.

BUT if done wrong, a tense scene can really annoy the reader.

The best way to create a tense scene the wrong way: contriving the tension. If the characters are screaming/punching each other for a stupid reason, the reader will not be amused. There's one good way to describe a scene like that: Melodramatic. Another way to describe it: a terrible waste of perfectly good paper and ink.

So if you read through your work and find that the characters' reactions are out of proportion to what they should be, it's time to tone it down.

Look Out for These:

1) Arguments about something insignificant, that amounts to the main conflict of the story.

2) Reactions out of proportion to what it should be.

3) Characters arguing with each other when everything points to the fact that they should get along. EXCEPT if there's a good reason.

How do you catch melodramatic moments?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Plot-Holes

Has this ever happened to you? You're done. Finally. All those months spent writing and rewriting a story. You even took a month off, living off your finishing-high so that you get distance from the story. Today is the day you do a fast read on the story you (!!!) wrote. At first a few cringe-worthy phrases, cliches and repetitions stand out. And there's a niggle. A tiny little crack.

But as you read, it grows and grows until it looks something like this:


And then you realize that you have a gaping plot-hole in your story.

Yeah, that's happened to me. It. Sucks.

I went into fix it mode, but nothing I thought of worked to fill the hole. There was aways something that defied solution. Something that I knew could potentially become another huge hole if I let it be long enough. After all, four books make more than enough opportunity for it to grow.

I panicked for a while and then sat down, realizing one thing. If I thought of the story that it exists in, the solution had to exist as well. And probably in such a way that it would come from the story. Knowing that, and that I'd never find it since I had no clue as to what the solution looked like, I finished reading Doorways and left it alone for another two weeks. What else could I do? The whole story hinged on the existence of a solution.

And you know what? I was waiting for a movie to start when the solution occurred to me. It was simple. So much so that I challenge any reader to find it one day, because it's so tiny that you'll never notice it's there. It fit. Perfectly.

So if you do have the misfortune of finding a plot-hole in the story, here are some steps to follow.

1) BREATHE! It's not the end of the world. Nor is it remotely close to being the end of your project.

2) Remember that you got this far with your story. So if the plot-hole is in it, your solution is as well. You just don't know it yet. Yes I know what a pantser-y trick this is, but it really works. Why? Because it opens your mind to out-of-the-box possibilities. You're not limiting yourself to thinking of the obvious. You're exposing yourself to genius.

3) Do something else.

4) Keep doing something else until your mind goes: A HAH! or whatever it does when it gets a brilliant flash of inspiration.

5) Fit the solution to the hole.

a) If it fits, celebrate and revise to blend it into the story.
b) If it doesn't, go back to step one and do it again.

Do NOT try to cram something that you contrived into the hole. It won't fit, so it will take a lot more work to camouflage it from a reader. And you know the thing about camouflage? A trained eye will still see it.

Look Out for These:

1) When you ask how/why/when/where to anything and you don't know because the answer doesn't exist. As supposed to how/why/when/where answers you don't know because you haven't explored them yet.

2) Anything you glossed over in the drafts - not wanting to think about it right at that moment - that accidentally grew to incredible importance as you wrote.

3) How/when/why/where questions whose answers are negated by an edit you did, but can't undo because of more important reasons. See S-day's post to see what I mean.

What do you do when you discover a plot hole?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Obvious

This is definitely one I struggle with. Because I wrote the story, everything that's been written is perfectly clear to me.

So it's a common occurance that I send out work and get back crit upon crit saying that they don't know what's going on. Because I can visualize what's going on all the time, I can't see when someone can't.

In those circumstances, the solution is to go back to each scene that misses some clarity and make the necessary aspects more obvious.

On the other hand, I have found that writers make things too obvious. That is by far the number one on my pet peeves list. Because making things glaringly obvious looks like the writer thinks the reader is an idiot. And insulting the people you want to pay for the story is never the wisest course. Luckily though, it's an easy fix. Deleting the reitirations of the obvious.

If the plot is too obvious or convoluted, though, you have a bit more of a problem. You'll have to put your story through substantial revisions to complicate or simplify your story, depending on the situation. 

So if you're think that something's too obvious or not obvious enough, you might want to get your CPs to help you spot all the places to fix...

Look Out for These:

1) Crit partners asking why/how/when/where questions.

2) Crit partners stating that they know something or that it's already clear.

3) Readers predicting the end or not getting the end at all.

Do you make things too obvious? Or do you struggle to?

Monday, April 16, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Not the Middle!!!

I've noticed it a lot that if one says the word "middle" in the writing community, more often than not, you will get a groan back.

Yeah... sagging middles are the bane of many a writer's existence.

So why do they happen?

There are a variety of reasons, but I can think of mainly three. 


First reason: flow. The middle portion of a story tends to be much longer than either the beginning or the ending sections. So odds are that you'll get a sagging middle, if your pacing is off and you're writing too many scenes where nothing important happens.

Second reason: Your ending is in the wrong place. If it feels like a moment in your story's middle should be the ending, anything after that point will feel boring right up to the ending. Even if the climax is after that point. Sad, but true. For proof, think of the movie Casino Royal with Daniel Craig.

Third reason: Stakes. Your story should be raising the stakes for the characters all the time. All the way to the climax. How sharply or gradually this happens depends on the story and characters, but they do have to be raised. Slack down on the raising of stakes and the story will slacken. Especially around the middle.

If you're lucky, it's number one, where the solution might be as easy as a few deletions. On the other hand, the other two reasons require substantial work, so if your story has a sagging middle, try to check out the pacing first.
If the problem is from reason no 2, you might have to cut everything after the point mentioned above out and write it into a possible sequel. Best case scenario that I can think of would be revising the scenes leading into and out of the moment causing the sagging middle, in a way that means that you can take the moment out.

If stakes are your problem, I suspect that rewrites and revisions will be needed, but to see why, you'll have to come back on R-Day.

Sagging middles aren't impossible to solve, but they take a lot of patience and hard work to fix in edits. Which is why I try to keep the middle boosted right from the start. Failing that, from the rewrite onwards.

Look Out for These:

1) Flow issues.

2) Moments that look like the ending, but that aren't in fact close to it.

3) Stakes not being raised.

What reasons do you find cause sagging middles? How do you solve them?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A to Z Challenge: More Than Meets the Eye

Today is actually related to my A post. Characters have to be realistic. For that to be possible, they have to act and sound realistic.

Sounds easy, right? Well... yes and no. Because while characters react in certain ways, they also react in certain ways to certain people and situations.

Why? Well... because some people and situations people love. Others they absolutely hate.

It all comes down to motivation. Which is where today's headline comes from. In reality, very few people can see other people's motivations. Even those they love. So most people of forced to take things at face value.

You as writer, can't rely on that when it comes to your characters. Because your readers need to see into the character's soul. They need at least a glimpse. Well... maybe need is a bit of a strong word, but do you really want your reader to wonder why two characters are fighting?

You know those (effing) books that you struggle through because the whole conflict in the story is about two characters arguing about reasons unknown? Or worse, a stupid reason. Yeah. Textbook motivation issue. (Bonus fact for new writers: in fiction, conflict is NOT about characters bickering. See last year's A to Z C post.)

I actually wrote a whole post on motivation that you can read here, for more detail and info on how to use motivation. Today's focus is on fixing it in edits.

Firstly, you need to know what you're fixing. Motivation isn't the reason why characters do things. It's the reason behind the reason (sometimes behind that reason too) why characters do and think things. See it as the main route of ALL decisions, actions, thoughts and ideals. So no... it's not anger, fear or a dream either. It's the reason behind those. Basically, to find motivation, you need to play the why game. You take something a character does or thinks or whatever and wonder: Why? If you get that answer, you ask again. And again. And again. Until you can't go back further.

Then, you need to make sure that (at least in the beginning) everything tracks back to the same motivations. Because if they don't, your character has multiple personality disorder. Of course, there are some times that a character acts out. For example someone with major-trust issues overcoming their issues and letting someone into their circle. That's fine. Just don't do it lightly. And give the reader a road-map to how and why it happened at some point in the story. If you don't, the reader will just be confused.

Okay... back to the conflict problem mentioned above. If characters don't like each other, make sure it's for a good reason. I think it's best if the dislike comes out of their motivation, because then it flows naturally out of who the characters are. Never will the bickering feel contrived. If it's based on anything less than the motivation, make sure that it stays as close to the motivation as possible.

So yes, even if the reader can't always see the motivation, make sure you always keep it in mind when editing. More than anything, motivation is the anchor that keeps everything real and believable.

Look Out for These:

1) Crit partners and Betas pointing something out as seeming contrived in some way.

2) Your "why's" not adding up to the same character when they're supposed to.

3) A problem that's rooted in a character's motivation being overcome without emotional (or other) turmoil.

Do you get to know your character before hunting for their motivations or do you build your characters around motivations of your chosing?

Friday, April 13, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Location and Positioning

Related to consistency would be continuity. Yeah... I think that by now you've realized that I sound like a broken record. 
I've already spoken about gaps between scenes. I've already spoken about flow. What could there possibly be left to talk about?

Well... I'm talking about positioning and location, or other physical aspects.

Of all the things that really get me out of the story as a reader, Positioning errors probably go into my top twenty list of pet peeves.

I HATE when a character is sitting in one place, only to be revealed on the other side of the room two lines later. Or when a character is grievously injured, but with the injury never referred to again.

The reason why positioning and location is so important to me: the way I read. I can't tell how other people experience reading, but to me, reading is almost visual first. In other words, I must be able to see what's happening in my mind's eye.

So the moment a character isn't where he/she was a second ago. Or doing something that shouldn't be possible because of what happened seconds ago... Yeah. It stands out.

Luckily this is pretty much a seek and destroy sort of issue, so once you find something wrong with your character's positioning, location or something like that, the solution can be as easy as deleting a contradiction. If the contradiction is about a lack of something, the solution is a bit more complicated, since not only do you have to write it in, you might have to work it through your whole story.

Look Out for These:

1) Characters suddenly being somewhere far from where they were moments ago.

2) Characters doing something that's impossible given recent events.

3) A lack of continuity between one action and the next.

What was the biggest mistake you made about positioning/location?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Keeping Things Consistent

This one's also pretty easy, but very freaking tedious to do. Still, it wouldn't be right if I made all my topics too difficult, so here goes.

When you get around to editing, it's pretty important to keep an eye out for inconsistencies in your writing.

I'm talking about small things like the spelling of a name. Or a  name changing for no reason in the middle of the story.

Or punctuation. Are you applying (or ignoring) grammatical rules consistently?

It sounds like a silly thing to do, but it's amazing how fast a reader can pick up  the smallest change. They might not see it. They might not be able to put their finger on the problem, but something will yank them out of the story and make them wonder what changed.

So don't let something like a silly inconsistency damage the reading experience. It's so not worth it.

Look Out for These:

1) US vs UK spelling.

2) Names.

3) Grammar.

So which inconsistencies catch you every time? Which ones have caught you in the past?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Jumps

When you draft, do you also sort of ignore some tricky or unknown scenes, saying you'll do them later?

Well, revisions are when you want to fill in the gaps that make the story jump forward faster than it should. You're going to have to find all of them, including the ones that you didn't leave on purpose.  

You know that fast read I mentioned for Flow? Well, this is also sort of a flow issue too. Missing scenes interrupt the flow, so they're actually easier to feel than the other flow problems. So when you're doing a fast read, make note of the missing scenes as you go.

But do NOT stop reading to insert the scenes, because you'll just be interrupting yourself.


Look Out for These:

1) Scenes you left open for some reason, meaning to get back to it later.

2) Areas in the story where it feels as if part of the story is missing.

3) Moments that are summarized in a scene, but that feel as if they should be expanded to do justice to the story.

How do you spot the gaps in your story?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Introduction

One of my favorite things to work on in edits is introducing different characters. To me, those first moments of getting to know a character are so wonderful that I get a happy feeling just thinking about them. Still, looking at introductions is an important aspect to edits because...


I can think of three reasons why introductions need to be looked at. First one would be that the character is important, but doesn't make enough of a first impression. The reader's not going to get involved with a character if he/she forgets the character within a few paragraphs of getting introduced. So let your character's inner stars shine from the start. Or at least a little bit to entice the reader.

Then there's the fact that a character wasn't really defined when you wrote him/her at first. It's perfectly natural, because it takes time to get to know a new character. Time that can only be taken by writing the story.

Also, in the process of writing a draft, you'll very possibly find that the character veers off in another direction as the story goes. Because of that, the original introduction and who you discover the character to be, won't coincide.

So when it's time to look at your characters' introductions: look for traits that you want the reader to know from the start. Does the introduction of every character show those traits in a way that imprints the character in the reader's thoughts? If not, you'll have to rewrite the scene to create the impression you wanted. 

There's only one chance to create a first impression for a character. Make it count.

Look Out for These:

1) The character seeming like different people between the first and later parts of the story.

2) An introduction that isn't memorable, despite the fact that the character is supposed to be.

3) Readers not engaging with an important character, or failing to remember that they've been introduced.

What do you do to get the introduction of your characters just right?

Monday, April 9, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Heading to a Point

I might be the only one, but I find that when it comes to editing, I need a bit extra in the way of motivation to get something done.

For me, setting a deadline goal and making it public works. Because knowing that there's a countdown timer showing how my editing time is dripping away really does a lot to keep me focused.

Maybe you'd need something different, but if you haven't started editing yet, I strongly suggest that you find something to work toward.

Why? Well... editing (while I love it) is not exactly the world's most exciting thing to do. I find it fun, but at the same time, it's a lot more like work than the sheer joy of pure creation as experienced during drafting.

So I need to remind myself that I am working toward something. Because I believe that editing every day is the wisest course.

If I leave long periods without editing, I have to read the story again to pick up where I left off, which wastes more time because reading the story again will either mean that I'll have to edit from the beginning, or taking more time to get distance again.

Also, if I leave the editing too late, I'll either end up taking forever to finish my WiP, or rush towards the date of completion. And rushing is hardly ever a good idea.

If I rush, I get sloppy. If I get sloppy, I'll miss some important things that need to be fixed. Which means that I'll probably have to go back and do it again. No one's idea of fun.

For the same reason, I strongly suggest that you don't see your editing goal as set in stone. Because, if you're still undiscovered, it's more important to do the job right than do the job fast.

But do what you must to get the job done.

Look Out for These:

1) Long periods without editing.

2) Procrastination

3) Feeling pressure because you haven't done any meaningful edits in a longer time than you think feels good.

How do you stay motivated during the editing phase?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Grammar and other Writing Conventions

Yes yes, I know this is a pretty obvious choice for G, but you know what they say, it's a classic for a reason.

There are always some of the lucky few that have a natural feel for grammar and the other rules. Others don't. Luckily, grammar is an easy (if repetitive and tedious) fix once you have an idea of the rule.

However, because there are so many rules, I'm not going to go into them today. Rather, I will refer you to this lovely lady.

Lucy Adams

Lucy is also doing the A to Z Challenge and her theme this year is Writing Conventions. Each letter deals with a specific grammar or writing rule.

I also suggest you go check out Grammargirl. She probably has every single thing to know about grammar on her site.

But before you turn yourself into a grammar nazi, remember that the prerogative is still yours. If you want to break a grammar rule for a reason, do it. As long as it works stylistically (ask crits and betas) and the reason isn't because you're too lazy to fix the mistakes.

So what about you? Grammar Nazi, or Grammar Hippie? Or somewhere in between? Have you ever experimented with breaking grammar rules? How did it work out?

Friday, April 6, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Flow

Looks like I'm all about the subtle issues this year. Today's issue of choice is flow.

It isn't something that you can see. You have to sense it. Which of course makes it nearly impossible for a writer to detect on his or her own.

Still, it can be done, if the writer takes at least a few weeks off to get a bit of distance from the story.

Once that's done, the writer needs to do two things.

Firstly a fast read through of the story. Reading through your work in as close to a single sitting as possible will hopefully show you where there are lulls in the story that nearly grinds its progress to a halt. Or conversely, where things are happening on top of each other so fast that the reader won't be able to catch up.

If the pace is too slow, either shorten the period before the next big event, or work something exciting into the lull. If it's too fast, you might want to look into bridging scenes. These are slower scenes designed to give the characters and the readers a chance to rest before the next thing happens. It gives them all the opportunity to think of the events just past before the next one. If those scenes aren't there, the story won't have an impact on the readers, because they won't have a chance to sink in.

The second thing that a writer needs to do is an out-loud reading of the manuscript. This is to catch the tiny things that hurt the flow. Words that repeat, sentences always of exact same length, or similar sentence structures repeating too close to each other. Same goes for paragraphs. Think I'm being nit-picky? Try this:

Inspecting the room, he walked in. People stopped talking and started staring. Pausing for a moment, he frowned. Why were they staring like that?

Doesn't feel nice to read, does it?

Compare this:

He walked into the room, careful to look relaxed while he inspected its occupants. Silence fell as he made his way to the bar. Frowning, he ordered a drink and took a sip. Why were they staring?

Still not the best lines ever, but lots better than before. So when you read out loud and things feel weird, look for repetitions and change them up.

Flow issues take a bit of effort to spot but once you know about them, they're among the most clear-cut issues to fix. Only one more thing: The fast read is best done during revisions while you're making big changes to the story. The loud read works best right at the end when you only need to change wording and such.

Look Out for These:

1) Long periods of unending action or no action.

2) Something sounding or feeling off when reading. Few people can catch structure repetition, so if you can't put a finger on what's wrong, go looking for repetitions.

3) Crit partners or betas pointing out the above. LISTEN to them. Odds are they'll catch flow issues much better than you will.

What do you do to catch flow issues while editing? Are you one of the lucky few with a natural feel for flow, or do you have to go looking for the problem?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Earth the Reader

I actually did a pretty good post about this earlier in the year, but it was quite long and I think it's important, so today I'm doing it again. Hopefully in express mode.

So... Earthing the reader is a term I've taken to using when thinking about when it comes to reader perceptions.


Broadly speaking, it works like this: There's an aspect or thing that has an impact on the story or character. Say... a gun that kills an intruder. Easy, right?

Well... no. Because if you want to keep your readers happy and the tension going, two things need to happen.

1) The reader must be shown that there is in fact a gun in the house.
2) The reader must be on the edge of his seat,
biting his fingernails because of the fact that the intruder broke in.

Now for things to be made even better, the gun and intruder can be earthed further. For example by showing the reader that the gun in fact does not work and later revealing that the intruder is there to kill the main character. Drama abounds, right?

All because the reader was earthed right. If they aren't gently lulled into the story with wisely inserted but vital information, the climactic scene will not have an impact on the reader except apathy. Or worse: disbelief.

Earthing the reader isn't just about the storyline, though. It's in every scene. If your characters are eating, make sure the reader knows this before the character puts her plate aside. Every single thing that the character interacts with has to be set up, otherwise it looks like he or she is conjuring it out of thin air.

It also extends to character motivations. Characters shouldn't be doing things without reasons, so you should be earthing the reader by either showing their motivations in small ways before something big happens. Conversely, a huge, seemingly incongruous reaction can be used to set up an important revelation of a character's motivation.

All of the above have to be done with skill and subtlety. Make it too obvious and the reader won't like it either, finicky creatures that they are...

Look Out for These:

CP and Beta reader reactions are a major indication of problems in this area. Look out for these (or similar) reactions:

1) "I don't like the Deux ex Machina in the ending."

2) "Where did this come from?"

3) "Why is the character reacting like this?"

What do you look for when earthing a reader? Do you ever pay attention to it while editing?


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Development

When the time for revisions come, this one is pretty important to look at.
For a reader to enjoy the story, something has to change. Maybe it's the plot changing the character's world. Or maybe it's the character that changes. Or even both.

But something has to change. Because if it doesn't, and everything goes back to how it was before the start of the story, what would be the point? Why would a reader sit through the thousands of words in between?

So during revisions, you might want to see if your characters grew. Especially if  you're more of a plot driven kind of writer. It's something I find quite a lot, that the plot-driven stories have awesome development in the plot, but almost none in the character. In fact, they can potentially let characters go through the motions required by the plot and leave the characters relatively unchanged. (And in some action-books I've read, unscathed.)

On the other hand, character-driven writers tend to have excellent character development, but the plot development is a bit lacking. I actually think it's easier for a character-driven writer to get both right, because a character can't change if something didn't happen to him or her. Still, the plot aspect to the story might feel murky or undefined. As if something happened, but the reader can't be sure.

Both of these can be acceptable if it's what you're going for. If not, you might want to spend a revision round either defining what's going on inside the character, or outside around the character.

More specific than that, I can't really help you, since it depends on the story. But if you have development issues in your story, you can contact me and I'll go through your work to see if you can improve on character or plot development. Otherwise, you should have a crit partner who's able to help you out.

Look Out for These:

1) Plot feels like it's going nowhere, even if it is in fact moving towards a point.

2) The plot is full of events, but the character seems to have learnt nothing, or didn't change, or seems largely unaffected.

3) Plot development: Crit partners say that you have pacing issues, but deep down you know the pacing is fine.

Are you a character or plot-driven writer? Do you find yourself having to go back to make sure the development of plot and/or characters need to be better defined?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Cliche

When I draft, I'm not really fussed about specifics in my description. All I want to know is what's happening, when, where and with who. Sometimes it's nice to know what the who's and where's look like.

So my first draft (and rewrite, for that matter) is riddled with cliches. Riddled. Because let's face it, Callan has jet black hair. And it's referred to as such in my two rough drafts. When I edit, though, it's time to change things up. Jet black hair is done. So is comparing it to a raven's wing. What then, do I change it to?

Well... this is where us character-strong pantsers have a lot of fun. We just let the view point character tell us. For example, I have a half-elf referring to hair as a glossy ebony. Simple. Perfect sounding coming from him. And that's the thing. Because it's not about how you the writer would say something. It's about how the character says something.

Remember what I said about characters having to act? It extends into narration. Because they have to sound right as well. And look right in the way they move. The perception of others have to fit the character doing the perceiving. If you get that right, and your character isn't a cliche, you'll pretty much cut out cliches in your word choices.

Which brings me to another point. Unless you're trying to lampoon the heck out of them, stay away from stock characters. I'm not saying that the ugly guy isn't evil. I'm just saying that there has to be more to a bad guy than being ugly and evil.

Or her...


You know, (ignoring the fact she's wearing a wedding band) the most popular girl in school. Confident. Pretty. Just so make up and body. Cliche. Does that mean she has to go once you edit?

No, but if possible, you might want to explore her a bit more to add depth. Like the fact that she's been living on 1200 calories a day - every day - for five years in order to look the way she does. And you know that perfect make-up? Ruin it with a few tears. And that confidence? Reveal (or just hint at) her many MANY insecurities. And if the story is about your character befriending her, maybe it's a good idea to let them stay friends in the end. With them BOTH showing character growth.

So to sum it up, cliche avoidance is about knowing your characters. If you know how they think, you'll know how they'll describe something in fresh and beautiful ways. If you know all of your characters, you can add little bits of them into the story that will add that extra dimension they needed to become awesome.

Look out for these:

1) Phrases as old as time.

2) Characters that fall squarely into a trope with nothing to change it up.

3) Also, characters who are pretty much cliched except for the single token quirk. The readers won't fall for it.

How do you fix cliches?

Monday, April 2, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Beginning

To me, beginnings are so important to stories that I devoted special attention to mine for Doorways. Before I even let most of my crits see the post-first-edits version.

After all, first impressions matter.

For some readers, a good opening chapter will make a difference between them closing the book and finishing it. So yeah. It's pretty darn important.

On the other hand, it's common to find people who work their butts off on the first lines and neglecting the rest of the chapter or on the first chapter and neglecting the rest of the book.

It sort of makes me think of a guy with this body:


And these legs:


See when we focus on one portion of a book too much at the expense of others, the story could (and often does) come out looking lop-sided.

Most of the places I've read about beginnings talk about hooking readers with the first line. About how important the first lines are and so on. Those aren't wrong, but there's more to hooking a reader than a first line. In fact, I see an excellent first line as something of a bonus. A sweet sensation I enjoy for all of half a second before moving onto the rest of the story.

According to me, the beginnings are there to serve two purposes:

1) To introduce at least one character in a way that draws the reader to the story. If not to the character.
2) To set up the story in a way that leads the reader into the rest of the plot. That's why personally I'm not a huge fan of opening in dream sequences or in the middle of action.

Both of these must be done in a way that moves into the second chapter without a hitch.

It's incredibly important to draw the reader in, but the effort can't stop at the end of the first line or even the first chapter. It stops at the end of the story.

Not a moment before that.

Look Out for These:

1) The beginning differing in tone or pacing from the rest of the story.

2) The characters are introduced, but with telling or in another way that bores or irritates the reader.

3) The opening not setting up the rest of the story plot-wise. If the first chapter doesn't slot into the subsequent chapters in a way that affects the rest of the story, it's better to start somewhere else.

How do you do your beginnings? Do you write it first and make the rest of the story fit, or do you write the story and tailor the beginning to fit?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Acting

Acting is quite tricky to catch when editing.

"Now what is this silly girl talking about?" you might ask.

Well... your characters, of course. For your story to work, your characters need to be realistic. By realistic, I mean they must act in a way that people do.

Which is a fun concept, because every person is different.

So how can I say characters must act like people?

Easy. People (usually the sanish ones, but the less than sane ones too) have motivations, dreams, desires. They have personalities. Complex personalities. Including quirks. And they are ruled by them.

So. Take this guy (and yes, I am aware that this will be a cliche fest): 

Image by extranoise
Let's call him Jack. Jack looks like a really nice person, and he is. He has some issues about his image (which is silly, because he's actually a good looking boy) from when he was a small boy wearing specs. He's sensitive and caring and generally speaking an affable guy. Everyone's best friend. Including Jill's: 

Image by tibchris

He's not going to snark. He's not going to be a badass dude waiting to knife you in the back. So anything that he does and says that goes against that, has to be fixed when you edit. 

Except, of course, it happens around this guy. 

Image by xlordashx

 See this badboy (let's call him Stephan) is cheating on Jill. And everyone knows. Except Jill, because she refuses to believe it. So if Jack didn't have a negative reaction around Stephan, he wouldn't be acting to character either.

So if you were to write Jack's story, it's vitally important that everything that Jack does and says fits with who he is. Even the things that look like they're out of character until closer inspection.

Look out for these: 

1) Moments sticking out because it isn't gelling with the rest of the scene.

2) Dialogue that doesn't suit the character.

3) A supposedly sane character looking bipolar because there's no constancy to the way he acts.

Do you get your characters to act true to who they are? What shows you that your character's "acting" is off?