Monthly Archives: January 2013
I don’t often discuss the technical side of writing in depth, but after reading the self-published works that inspired last Monday’s post, I’ve decided to discuss the biggest problem I’ve seen in these novels: overwriting.
What is overwriting? There are two ways authors overwrite: with excessive details, and with particularly wordy phrasing. Even a perfectly spelled piece with flawless grammar can be made frustrating if the author overwrites them. It makes a book frustrating to read and in today’s fast paced society, most readers will walk away. I’m particularly forgiving of this if the story captivates me, but enough of it will make even me gash my teeth.
So today I’d like to discuss some of the things that can–and should–be cut from your writing whenever possible to make it easy reading.
Let’s start with the details:
1. Characters brushing their teeth. Or combing their hair, or getting dressed in the morning. These things should only be included if they’re used to add depth or move the story forward. For instance, if your character notices a giant bruise developing on their face while they’re brushing their teeth in the morning, that’s a good use of the scene. In fantasy settings, often the nobles have servants to dress them, and these scenes can be used for gossip with the servants to great effect. George R. R. Martin uses this technique often to pass information between characters.
2. Details of your setting that don’t matter to the plot. Festivals, events, street names and other details of your setting should only be mentioned if they’re important to your story. If you’ve spent hours creating your location or done months of research it can be tempting to include all the details, but that will bog the story down. Include only what is necessary to the plot. People don’t pick up a novel expecting a detailed tour of the city or town in question. They want a story, not a tourist guide. Some detail helps them enjoy the story. Too much irritates even the most patient reader.
3. Most flashbacks. There’s often a more efficient way to mention past events, and flashbacks should only be used when absolutely necessary. Unless you’re doing a story intentionally that starts at the end and shows you how the character got there, the best way to give readers a feel for the important parts of your character’s past is to mention them briefly and then expand on them bit by bit later. Make it a gradual thing rather than a flashback or a long winded explanation, and you’ll keep the reader’s interest more easily.
And some words that can almost always be left out:
1. Just. It seems like an innocent word, but while it doesn’t ruin your grammar, it’s often redundant. Think about these sentences:
He was just a little bit taller than me.
She lived just around the corner from the scene of the crime.
In both sentences just is grammatically correct, but does it need to be there? Consider these sentences:
He was a little bit taller than me.
She lived around the corner from the scene of the crime.
The sentences are now a little bit stronger and shorter without having changed meaning. Getting rid of ‘just’ might not seem like a big deal, but once they’re gone, you’ll see a big difference.
2. Then. This is one I’ve been ripping mercilessly from my manuscripts. Sure, there are occasions where it’s essential, but often it’s unnecessary, particularly when used after the word ‘and’. Consider these sentences:
And then she kicked the door.
She grabbed the hammer and then held it in front of her defensively.
Now look at these:
She kicked the door.
She grabbed the hammer and held it in front of her defensively.
Which sentences do you think are stronger? In the end, ‘then’ is just another word bogging down your work. Cut it whenever you can, especially when you see it after ‘and’.
3. Very. This is another unnecessary word. Take a look at these sentences:
The mansion was very big.
She was very angry.
Now consider these:
The mansion was massive.
She was furious.
By eliminating very and using stronger words, I’ve made these sentences shorter and more visual. Look for this word in your work and delete it whenever possible. Be ruthless. There’s almost always a better way to emphasize something than using the word ‘very’.
Exercise: Pull out a story/project you haven’t looked at a while and a highlighter. Highlight every excessive detail and every instance of just or very that you see within the first three pages. Count them, and then find ways to get rid of them. Remember that overwriting doesn’t make you a bad writer–almost all of us do it in our first few drafts. Editing may be painful, but it gives your work the best chance possible for success.
Just for fun, post how many instances of overwriting you found in your first three pages. For each reader who does, I’ll look through one of my old projects and count the instances of overwriting. Let’s compare numbers!
Today’s guest is another Musaling, this time an editor and freelancer to bring you a totally new perspective. Please give Brianna Soloski a warm welcome.
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When I was little, I wanted to be a teacher or an author. I went to school for education, but ended up not going into that field. I was working at a preschool, but was laid off in 2008. I floundered for two years after that, moving a few times, not working, unsure what I wanted to do. Summer 2010 found me in Seattle working at a summer camp. It also led to a long chat with my cousin about what I really wanted to do with my life. She suggested I go back to writing, since I’d always enjoyed it and been relatively good at it. I turned that over in my head for a few weeks. When I got home, I began volunteering at the Jewish Community Center in Las Vegas. I also got wind of a local city lifestyle
magazine that was just starting up. I called the editor and asked if there were any volunteer/internship positions available. I got a volunteer gig putting together the print calendar – a tedious, time-consuming job nobody else wanted to do. As time went on, I got more responsibility. About a year and a half ago, the editor who had hired me quit and I moved into the (now paid) position of editorial assistant. I still do the calendar, but I also write and edit for the magazine.
From there, writing just became a natural habit. I participated in National Novel Writing Month in 2010 and had that novel published in October 2012. In 2012, I made the decision to freelance full-time. I run a freelance editing business that is thriving. I work for an award-winning magazine. I have as much time to write as I need. I can come and go as I please. I still work at the Jewish Community Center part-time, but I’m hoping to have enough business to phase that out by the summer.
How I came to Musa Publishing was kind of accidental. I had recently read Twin Sense by Lydia Sharp (amazing!) and sought out the website to see what other books they had to offer. There were a few freebies so I picked those up. I signed up for their newsletter. Just for kicks, I clicked on the employment page, just to see if anything was available. There was a head line editor position open, so I applied, even though I wasn’t sure I was completely qualified for the job. Turns out, I wasn’t, but I was offered a line editor position, which I accepted.
I’ve edited four books for them now and I absolutely love it. Line editing is the process of going through a work line by line to check for errors. I do not edit for content (although I do offer content editing through my personal business). The opportunity to read great books is wonderful. The experience is invaluable and will help me as I move through my career and take on other jobs.
The thing about Musa that really shines is their professionalism. In a little more than a year, they’ve published a remarkable number of books. Every title I’ve read from them has been excellent – well written, well edited, etc. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to an author looking for a home for their book. In fact, it’s highly likely I will submit my current work in progress to them for possible publication.
Bio: Brianna Soloski is an avid reader and writer. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from Sierra Nevada College. She also obtained her teaching credentials from the college. Although she’s not currently teaching, she enjoys spending time with her friends’ kids. In her spare time, she loves to travel and would love to book
a world cruise – imagine the memoir that could come from an adventure like that! Girl Seeks Place is available for purchase on Amazon. She can be found blogging at http://www.girlseeksplace.wordpress.com. She can also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brianna-Soloski-Writer.
Self publishing is a growing phenomena with the rise of ebooks. Thanks to numerous self published authors whose books have made it big and already published authors successfully self publishing their back lists and new projects, self publishing has gained a new level of respect in the industry and the world at large. And there are numerous benefits to self publishing–you get total control over your project, you get to keep all the profits, and you don’t have to wait for gatekeepers to respond to you.
However, there are also several dangers inherent in self publishing. The gatekeepers of traditional publishing certainly aren’t perfect, but often if they reject your manuscript it means you need to do more work on the book. It doesn’t mean your book will never be publishable–but often rejection is a good sign that your book isn’t ready for publication yet.
With self publishing, the temptation is to do it all yourself. But everybody needs an editor, especially on a book length project. It’s easy to overlook small flaws in your own work, and every piece needs a second pair of eyes to examine it–sometimes several pairs of eyes. Many people self publish because they’re afraid of rejection, and this same fear leads them to choose to do all the editing themselves. This is a mistake. A badly edited book is worse for your reputation than no book at all, so if you’re going to self publish, make sure to get an editor. Good editors cost a lot of money, but it’s worth it–and you can always find somebody new to the field who’s happy to volunteer because they need more professional credits.
Not only that, but the desire to save money and get the book out sooner often leads to authors creating their own cover art and formatting the books themselves. This is fine if you’re already pretty good at these things–but bad formatting or a cover that falls flat will be deadly to your book, so if you’re not already a confident graphic designer or programmer, you might want to hire a professional.
Note that self publishing is not inherently bad. It’s the desire to rush a book out to market which is bad. Spending extra time or money on editing, formatting or cover art will not hurt your novel. Rushing it out before it’s ready will. You’ll get unpleasant reviews which stings both your ego and your sales, and once that first novel has fallen flat on its face the second won’t even be considered by most readers and reviewers. It will take a long time–possibly even a pseudonym–for people to forget about your poorly edited/formatted book. Flat cover art will mean that most people never even pick up your book.
So if you’re considering self publishing, heed my warning. As a reviewer, I’ve read self published books, and I’ve enjoyed most of them–but I’ve also noticed a higher percentage of basic errors in self published novels than in the traditionally published novels I’ve read. I love stories and I’m pretty forgiving of misspelled words and incorrect grammar if I’m given a wonderful story–but most people aren’t. Releasing your book while it’s still riddled with these basic errors–which all books have at some point–means you’re not giving it the best chance to thrive in today’s market. And you want your book to have the best chance of success that you can give it, right?
Also, if you’re an author who’s considering self publishing and who doesn’t have the money for a high end professional editor, look for those who are just beginning their career in editing. For example, I’m trying to break into the editing business as well as the writing business–and I’d be happy to offer a discount to a struggling author, maybe even free editing if I like the project enough. There are plenty of others in my position, so take a good look around the web and see what you can find. And if you’re interested in working out a deal with me personally, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you read any self published books? How well do you think they were edited?
It would seem that my dear friend Matthew Kirshenblatt over at Mythic Bios has nominated me for the Reality award. I’d actually never heard about this award before, but it’s pretty cool. Here’s how it works:
1.) Visit the blog of the person who nominated you, thank them, and acknowledge them on *your* blog.
2.) Answer the five questions listed below and nominate up to 20 bloggers whom you feel deserve recognition. Visit their blog to let them know.
3.) Cut and paste the award to your wall.
If you could change one thing, what would you change?
If I could change one thing about the world, I would get rid of money and instead create a system where all the goods were distributed evenly and people were appreciated based on how hard they worked rather than how much they can earn for other people.
If I could change one thing about myself, I would make myself more of a routine animal. My spirit always bucks against routine, and when I try to create routines after school, I find they’ll often work out for a few days but on the third or fourth day I’ll be so exhausted when I get home from school that I just pass out and ruin it. This would be fine if I wasn’t trying to create a writing career for myself, but since I am, I’d like to find a way to make myself more accepting of routine.
If you could repeat an age, what would it be?
The age I’m at right now. I’d love to be nineteen forever. I really love my current school and I’d also love to stay in the program forever. I’m pretty healthy, I’m old enough that people respect me as an adult and have stopped treating me like a child, I’m doing pretty well in all my endeavors, and I don’t yet need to worry about paying rent. If I got to repeat the year, I’d be much better set up to support myself by the time I got out of high school.
Oh, and I shouldn’t forget that it’s nice to be able to legally buy cigarettes and alcohol–though I buy very little of the latter.
What one thing really scares you?
There are a few, though only a small few, but the one I’ll talk about today is the fear of being unable to pursue my passion. I have tendonitis in both wrists–at least, that’s what they *think* it is–and it’s pretty terrifying. I also know that it is possible–my grandmother dreamed of being a ballerina, but her feet were bad and she was short, so she would never have made it too far dancing in a company and she had to give up altogether one day because of the pain it caused her. Keeping her story in mind, I’m grateful to be a writer, because nobody will ever try to tell me I’m too short to pursue my passion.
But more so I am afraid. Afraid that someday I will lose the capacity to write, because writing is my life and without it I would be nothing. I would be useless. I would be really crazy really quickly, probably extremely suicidal. Writing has carried me through a lot of things, and my desire to make my voice heard has kept me from suicide on many occasions already. Without it, I’d be lost.
If you could be someone else for one day, who would it be?
That’s a good question. I think, though, rather than being somebody else, I’d like to just be me… except rich. I’m pretty happy with who I am and though I’d like to have 50 books published, I don’t think I’d like to be Terry Pratchett for a day all that much. And though I’d like to be a famous actress, I wouldn’t want to be Helena Bonham Carter for a day. But I’d love to be independently wealthy so I could focus on my craft and not have to worry about finding a job that, you know, pays the bills until I become a famous novelist.
And now for my own nominations:
I hope that you’ll all take the time to check out these blogs and that the bloggers will be doing this exercise soon themselves. Oh, and I’d also like to throw out a big thank you to everyone who’s subscribed to Dianna’s Writing Den–I crossed the three hundred subscribers mark a few days ago and I’m ecstatic! I can’t make any promises, but I’m thinking up a contest for when I hit 350 already, so keep tuned.
A handful of you might be aware that I’ve wanted a camera for a long, long time. I wanted the camera because photos make blog posts more attractive and articles about my city will more easily sell with photographs.
Last year for Christmas I was given the money for a camera. Unfortunately, it was in a check, and I managed to lose the check on my way to the bank to cash it. So I’ve spent the last year without the camera I was supposed to have, becoming increasingly irritated with my various friends and relatives who have been picking up new ones.
Then something amazing happened. I got a camera. It isn’t the best camera in the world. It’s only 10 megapixels and the shutter speed is nothing special. But it’s a camera, and I’m thrilled to finally be able to take pictures of all the beautiful things I see.
It wasn’t exactly a Christmas present, but it certainly felt like one. And it’s the best present I got this year.
So, in order to celebrate having a camera and to make sure I go out regularly and take pictures, I’ve decided to start doing weekly picture prompts. I’ve always enjoyed making use of picture prompts and I hope you’ll enjoy them as well.
Without further ado, here’s your first picture prompt of the year:
Please post the first sentence of your response in the comments.