“Write what you know”

Um, no?

 

This advice will cripple you; don’t listen to it, don’t look at it, don’t think about it!

 

Now, I should qualify this advice does have its place, but it should be taken with a pinch of salt; I’d take it to mean don’t write about something sensitive or realistic until you’ve taken the time to research it. Likewise, don’t take experiences that are no yours. i.e. write about people of different cultures, colours, orientations, and genders, but don’t write a story about the experience of being that person. Have a gay character, but don’t, as a straight person, write about the experience of being gay in this world. Makes sense, right?

 

Don’t, dear god, think it means don’t write about anything unless you’ve first seen/done/experienced it! Because you’ll either spend your life chasing questionable experiences, or your writing will suffer.

 

Writing is the practice of literacy tempered by empathy; if you don’t have direct experience talk to those who do, read primary sources, do your research and draw on similar experiences that you do have.

 

Above and beyond all else you need to learn to take criticism from the people who do know what you’re writing about first hand; don’t take it as a personal attack, but an opportunity for personal growth. If you practice these disciplines, research, active listening, empathy, and humility, your writing will flourish!

Advertisements

102 Ways to Spark Novel Ideas

The hardest part of writing is, for many, getting started; formulating a viable idea is harder than it sounds for many writers.

Never fear – TheMerryWriter (that’s me!) is here to save the day!

Image result for save the day gif

Well… maybe not, but I do have a list of 102 prompts, story starters, and suggestions for idea generation that might just haul you out of this rut;

Idea Generators

Some ways to formulate ideas, both big and small;

  1. Bend a well-worn story; the stories of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Dracula have been worked over and over. Remember this; some stories are public domain and as such you can use their plot, their characters, and/or their premise. Twist it with your own ideas and you could have a winner!
  2. Read the Newspaper; find the weirdest or most mysterious news story you can and write an alternative path to/ending for that news story (be sure to change names and details if you wish to submit it for publication). You can bend a news story to fit almost any genre, too!
  3. What-If questions; look at history, or current events, or even novels and stories you love and ask yourself “what if”. For example, my good friend Miranda Shepard  is writing a story based on the question “What if Logen Ninefingers had met a nice girl and turned on Bethod before Bethod turned on him?”. To read it you would never know that this is how it started, or that the characters have their basis in the work of Joe Abercrombie, but that question was enough to get her running (shameless friend promotion, I know!).
  4. Make Use of Junk Mail; have you ever had one of those emails or letters claiming to be from a Nigerian, or Russian, or Vietnamese, Prince/Princess who will pay you if you just let them use your bank account to claim funds? Well, why not write a story about the people who make these scams, the people who fall for them, or even story in which it is true!
  5. Old friends, new horizons; invent a fantastical, or realistically grim depending on your bend, for an old acquaintance with whom you have lost touch!
  6. Eavesdrop; now I’m not suggesting you listen for secrets behind closed doors (unless that’s really your thing), but we all know there are times when you catch a snippet of conversation in a public place and wish you knew what came next, before, or how it started…. why not write your own version?
  7. People watch; an extension of the last, but bear with me. Watch the way people move, what they wear, and think about the kind of person this might make them. Write a story about the person you create, or simply slot your new character into an existing plot.
  8. Alternative history; much like the what-if question, but a little more involved. After all, the Man in The High Castle is an alternative history; what would have happened if we came to believe the Nazis won the war?
  9. Write a fix it; have you ever been disappointed by a story or movie? Write a fix-it scene or story that resolves things the way you would have liked!
  10. Try a plot generatorthis one will actually generate a short story, novel, script outline for you if you fill out the descriptors. It usually spews out sub-par offerings, but if you’re stuck you can have some real fun and maybe harvest a few small ideas at the same time.
  11. Start with a word; pick a word you don’t know the meaning of and look it up, or a word that you just like the sound of. Make a mind map of all the associations it has for you and write a story using that inspiration/guidance.
  12. Pick a picture; google an image, or look at a painting and make a story that fits the scene depicted. If you want to get really out there pick an abstract and write about what you see in it.
  13. Write for others; ask your friends and family what they really like to, or really want to, read and write something just for them.
  14. Re-invent a fairy tale; avoid a well-worn one like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and go for something like the woman who lived in a shoe, or Rumpelstiltskin. Better yet you could write a new fairy tale using established mythological creatures like, for example, Ghillie Dubh of Scottish folklore.
  15. Do your research; pick a topic that really interests you, for example Templar history, social development in children, marine biology, and read around the subject. The more broad your knowledge, the bigger the pool you have to draw ideas from.
  16. Make a “hate” list; list the tropes, character features, and cliches you hate the most and go through them one by one writing short snippets and scenes (even stories) which twist them in ways you would prefer to see in main stream media.
  17. Make a “love” list; make a list of the tropes, character features, and cliches you love and deliberately write them badly to find out what it is that makes them work for you.
  18. Break your routine; we are creature of habit, of course, but be sure to break from your norm now and then, New experiences are key in keeping your repetoire fresh.
  19. Take a holiday/vacation; on the subject of shaking up your routine – be sure to take time to not write. That’s right; when you don’t write, you can improve your writing (say that fast three times!). Recharge and focus on experiencing life, even if your vacation is only a lack of work.
  20. Talk to people; talk to anyone about anything. Talk to people you know you disagree with about difficult subjects (politely) and to people you usually agree with about controversial subjects (politely). Hell, talk to strangers about mundane things. Absorb the milieu of humanity as often as you can if you really want to write; so many of Stephen Kings books feature tiny, insignificant moments that make his fantastical stories truly human.
  21. Make a decision; before you have a full plot, or if you cannot build one to save yourself, make a huge decision and plonk it in the middle somewhere. E.g. this character will die. Then set about brainstorming as to how you can make this happen in a meaningful way.
  22. Relive your memories; write about your memories, the good, the bad, the ugly, the insignificant, and the fleeting. These are the things that impacted you enough to stay with you. Bonus; fixate on the most obscure and meaningless memory you have, write about why its so important and memorable, make a false history to get a character to that point.
  23. Reverse Problem Solving; create a problem for your character and mind-map or brainstorm how you can cause this problem for them.
  24. Ping-Pong; get together with friends and work together to make as many ideas as you can from one starting point. One person “serves”, i.e. they must come up with an idea, no matter how silly or weak, and the next person develops it and so on.
  25. Fill the gap; write out a start point for your character and a possible end point, fill that gap! If you can’t think of one for your character do it for yourself; where are you now, and where would you like to be (in your wildest dreams or most tentative plans) and fill the gap.
  26. Link Hop; start on a Wikipedia page for something you find interesting, link hop three times and write a story that joins all things somehow. This is a hell of an exercise; be prepared to drink!
  27. WWJD; pick a sticky situation out of a novel, newspaper, film, or memory and ask yourself what someone else would do in that situation (maybe not Jesus, though).
  28. Trigger storming; pick an action, incident, or problem and apply it to your character/a character. E.g. “Chad finds out his wife of ten years is cheating with his best friend, what does he do?” or “Jolene is up to her eyeballs in debt and about to lose her house, how does she fix it?”
  29. Fill a need; what does the world/ your town/ a country sorely need and ask yourself how this need could be filled. Brainstorm ideas from the boring to the outlandish and make a character who can fix this problem in one of the ways. Write about it.
  30. “…and throw rocks at them”; make a character with a goal, any goal at all, and then chase them up a proverbial tree (i.e. complicate things) before you throw rocks (problems) at them. Ensure things get out of hand.
  31. Consider an object; there is a whole book and film about how the painting The Girl with The Pearl Earring came to be. Create an object history.
  32. Write about the most upsetting thing you have ever seen or heard; solve it or make it worse, the choice is up to you.
  33. Consider your pets; what does your dog do when you leave the house? Does your gerbil have nefarious plans? Is your rabbit actually an Old God? Write about the secret life of the furry tenants in your home!
  34. Consider a milestone; graduations, birthdays, births, and deaths all throw up high emotions and remarkable moments. Brainstorm a big life event and write the story/agenda of everyone in attendance. There’s a story in there somewhere!

 

The Prompts

One sentence prompts to make you think about your character and world;

  1. Character A and Character B are divorced – what happened?
  2. The Magic is leaking out of your world, what caused it?
  3. Character A is the Chosen One, but their power is completely useless – what is it?
  4. If your character could get only one thing from their life, what would it be?
  5. If you made a perfect Utopia, what would the single, fatal flaw be?
  6. In your dystopian future who leads the revolution?
  7. The revolution has failed – what happens next?
  8. This first date is the most important of character A’s life; they have been assured that their soulmate mark matches with character B’s, but when she gets there it is character C, the waiter, who matches them. What happens next?
  9. Make your OC’s biggest fear come true. 
  10. Your OC loses their dog; how do they react?
  11. Their house is on fire; what two non-sentient items does your OC save?
  12. Put your OC in the teen novel you wish you had lived; fix any issues you have with it. 
  13. Your OC has been kidnapped – how do they escape? 
  14. If they don’t, who comes to save them?
  15. Who would your OC give up everything for?
  16. War has broken out; does your OC volunteer, or do they wait to be conscripted?
  17. Your OC fakes their death in order to get away from debtors; how do they do it, how well does it go, what happens next?
  18. Character A is given the choice between characters C and D; they know both of them well. Who do they choose, why, and what do they do next. 
  19. Voodoo is real; Characters A and B have irrefutable proof of this, what do they do?
  20. The Easter Bunny is real, and it eats children. What does your OC do? 
  21. Rewrite your favourite YA story as adult fiction; what changes? 
  22. Rewrite your favourite adult fiction novel as a YA story; what changes?
  23. Character A and B go on a road trip, they break down in the desert at midnight. What happens?
  24. Character A’s superstitions turn out to be true; how does character B react?
  25. Chocolate is now banned, what does your OC do? 
  26. Dogs can talk, and it turns out they’re involved in a world wide conspiracy. 
  27. The Zombie Apocalypse is here; which of your OC’s survive? 
  28. Your OC teleports whenever they sneeze; how does that go for them? Write about their misadventures
  29. Capitalism has fallen; what system does your world revert to?
  30. How does your OC deal with the dissolution of a long term relationship?
  31. Earth has fallen – what happened? 
  32. The Great Library of Alexandria was not destroyed but hidden away – who hid it, and where? 
  33. Write a self-insert where you deal with your favourite historic figure in their own time. 
  34. What really causes the disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle?

 

The Starter Sentences

Some dialogue and starter sentences to get you going;

  1. “I mean it could be worse…. at least we still have the ham.”
  2. The flags snapped and rippled as an icy wind blasted down the mountain side; the red sun that was rising made them snow glow pink as the opposing army approached. 
  3. “Magic isn’t hocus pocus, wave a stick and poof you have what you want!” “No?”  “No! It’s hard work!”
  4. The dogs were too smart for her; she was going to have to really work to fool them… 
  5. The bite was starting to ache. The skin around it was going green, and there was a smell, meaty but dusty, that wasn’t quite right. 
  6. “Bite me!” “Oh believe me, I will.”
  7. If she could only reach the lever… it was so close. Her fingers brushed the mahogany handle. 
  8. He was dead, of that much he was certain. How else could there be so little pain? 
  9. “I never wanted you to feel this way! I love you… I just can’t be with you!”
  10. “If I ever see you again (X), I will kill you. Blood debt be hanged.”
  11. The waters were still as glass and black as night, but in the centre something made them ripple; a flash of green in the under tow. 
  12. The TV flickered, and the message that appeared was chillingly simple. Do not exit your home, do not open the door. They are not what they seem. 
  13. Life is a series of disasters, interspersed with happiness; (X) was beginning to realise that the next disaster was looming in the form of an eight pound feline. 
  14. If I had only one super power it would be the power to drive romantic prospects away… 
  15. “If you turn the hourglass this way, you’ll find that time slows.” “And if I turn it that way?” “Never turn it that way!”
  16. Blood seeped into the snow, making the ice crack under the sudden heat, and soon a spiderweb of pink ran through the ice. (X) swallowed and stared at (Y)’s lifeless body. What a waste. 
  17. “Lycanthropy is not a reason to miss work, Smith!”
  18. “How much candyfloss do you think I could fit in there?” “What?” “What?!”
  19. The police were the first to fall, and so the resistance had to come from the teachers. 
  20. “I swear, by the almighty, if you don’t put your pants on I’ll kill you.”
  21. The ships that rocked gently in the harbour arrived over night with no warning, and seemingly without crews. 
  22. When I was sixteen years old I died. Thankfully I got better. 
  23. It looked like a whale, but it was peppered with shining eyes and seemed to glide through the water without moving a muscle. 
  24.  The darkness was watchful and dense; it seemed to press on her from every side, and the corners seemed to be full of skittering noises. 
  25. Scepticism had saved her life more than once, so it was really unfortunate that it now seemed set to kill her. 
  26. If looks could kill, he’d be a smear on the carpet. As it was he could only blink and fidget, hoping to look sheepish.
  27. “I could kill you, you know?” “Well, so could a falling coconut, what’s your point?”
  28. “Never have I ever…. eaten raw flesh.”
  29. “If you can’t backflip, why are you even here?”
  30. The door groaned and splintered; soon they would be through, and all hell would break loose. 
  31. “Forgiveness is like an open wound; it lets all kind of dirt in.”
  32. When the living give up on progress it’s time for the dead to step in. 
  33. “She never even graduated!”
  34. “I honestly thought you were a shaved bear of some kind…” 

 

 

Writing a Killer Synopsis

When it comes to querying literary agencies you will notice that most, if not all, request that a one page synopsis of your work be sent alongside your query. It is this,  believe it or not, that most authors struggle with, especially when it comes to their first query/novel.

What to include, what tone to write it in, and really what a synopsis is are common questions; you can find some answers here. But first, here’s the most common question;

Do I really need a synopsis?

In all honesty? Yes. There may be some agents that do not explicitly request a synopsis, though that is very rare, however even in these cases you will improve your chances greatly by including one.

 

What is a synopsis?

The synopsis is a one page sum up of your story and all the major plot points; it is your best, if not your only, tool for selling the story to an agent or publisher, and it could, in fact, be more important than your cover letter (though you will find advice on how to write one of those here, too).

What a synopsis is not is a jacket-blurb (you know, one of those high on drama, low on details, halfway breathless attention-getter statements designed to tell you next to nothing about the actual plot?), nor is it your thoughts on the symbolism, themes, and market for your novel.

A synopsis lets the agent know what they could have to work with; its the skeleton of your plot laid bare, so that the agent or publisher can decide if they want to see the full manuscript.

 

What should be in a synopsis?

A summary of the main plot points, main characters, and main character arcs that have a lasting effect on the direction and nature of the story. A simple synopsis will include the following;  the premise, inciting incident, rising action of conflict, climax, character growth, and the resolution.

Please do not leave out the ending or main plot points; this isn’t about keeping the reader in suspense, it’s a skilful way to inform the agent or publisher of what you have made. Think of it as a recipe; include everything that was vital to creating the finished product.

 

How to write a synopsis

Before you start to write your synopsis, you need to prepare your plot points; if you work from an outline this will be easier for you, but pantsers still have hope (in fact the process of writing your synopsis may help you to identify plot holes if you write this way).

If you don’t have an outline to work from you should read through your novel and make a note of all the main plot points. Try making a short summary of the key events in each chapter. Once you’ve done this you’ll probably have four or five pages of notes. Some agents want a long synopsis, three to five pages, others a very short one. I would suggest you make your notes into a four or five page synopsis and keep a version of this in case an agent wants this long version. For those looking to receive a concise synopsis you can cut it down a little.

Once you have a sum up of your key plot points you can begin the four stage process of writing the synopsis;

  1. String together your main plot point summaries to make a coherent narrative; cut anything that is non-necessary to understanding the progression of the plot and character arcs. If you find it easier to write the character arcs and main plot points individually, do so. At this stage you should be thinking about having a functional sum up of your novel; polishing and embellishing can come later.
  2. Consider the beginning; you don’t have space for a huge amount of context during your, but you should built a short foundation. Talk about who your main characters are (CAPITALISE their names), what position they start in, and most importantly what problems they face from the start. Pick up the thread of this conflict and weave it through the summary you have already created.
  3. Focus on the end; read through what you have with a particular eye for plot points, character arcs, and trends, and reinforce your ending in a way that emphasises how your ending ties up the loose ends, or if it’s a trilogy/series which loose ends are tied up.
  4. Read and refine; cut the fat, add any missing plot points or characters, and of course proofread for spelling, grammar, and consistency. At this point you should also make sure that your synopsis is formatted correctly.

 

How to format your synopsis

  • No matter how you write your story, e.g. in first person, third person, past or present tense, your synopsis should be written in third person, present tense.
  • Unless stated otherwise any synopsis of more than one page should be double-spaced. A one page synopsis may be single spaced, or have 1.5 spacing, but check your chosen agency or publishers website to see if they specify. If they do specify always comply with their specification.
  • Align left (do not justify text).
  • One inch margins on every side.
  • Indent first line of each paragraph by 1/2 inch.
  • In the header, include; author last name, title or key words from title, and the word Synopsis.
  • If you are sending this with a cover letter you may not need contact information in your synopsis, once again check for direction otherwise.
  • Page one should have: header information (slug), a title one or two lines below the header (centred), the word Synopsis one or two lines below the title, and then the main body of the synopsis.
  • If contact info is to be in the synopsis add it after the header information and the title.

 

Choosing a Literary Agent

So you’ve finished your first draft, you’ve edited your manuscript (1, 2, 3), and you’re ready to get it out into the world.

You can go the self-publishing route if you want, but if you want to get picked up by a traditional publisher you’re probably going to need an agent. Once you’ve identified the best agent for you there are somethings you should definitely never say, and there are certainly ways to ensure that your query is the very best it can be.

Before you can get to this point, however, you need to identify an agent that suits you.

 

Identifying a legitimate literary agent;

First things first; ensure the agent in question is legitimate! There are many new authors so eager to land an agent that they will not only query agents who are a poor fit for them, but also agents who are not even genuine!

How ca you tell if an agent is legitimate? Well, first and foremost they will not charge a reading fee, they will not take fees upfront (if they do they will usually include a clause that states they cannot take any further upfront fees without your written consent, though, so check that out), and they will not refer you to fee charging editorial services. Legitimate literary agents make their money through commissions earned when they sell your product to publishing houses. The usual fee ranges between 10% and 20%.

Be wary of any agent that contacts you out of the blue; if you have not solicited them and

do not have a large social media following or platform its likely they are scammers.

 

Finding the right agent for you;

When you’re thinking about querying an agent you need to consider how they fit with your genre, your style, and your goals. Most agents will specialise in either fiction or non-fiction, commercial or literary, informative or narrative, and of course many specialise by genre as well.

You should be looking for agents that have represented works similar to your own. Start by compiling a list of agents that state they are open to books in your genres and field, and then do your homework. Yes, this means more research.

No, you can’t get out of it. Here’s how it can benefit you; just because an agent is open to your kind of work does’t mean they are the very best fit for you. Try to find out some of the following information before you query (or rule anyone out);

  • How many deals have they made?
  • How many within the last two years?
  • Do they sell to a variety of publishers?
  • Which authors have they worked with?
  • What kind of advances have they negotiated?

You may not be able to find out all of this information, but you will surely find out some, and this will not only give you an idea as to whether this is the correct agent for you, but you’ll have an idea of how to personalise your approach when you do query them.

 

Once you have your agent single out, you’ve written a kick-ass query (and of course your manuscript is ready), all you have to do is write up a one page synopsis and you can start querying!

Self-Editing For Success, Part Three

So, you made it to the hand editing stage.

Welcome to hell, children, I’ll be your guide!

 

Print off that pretty manuscript of yours and get ready for a trip into the depths of your own work that will leave you with nothing but weariness. You’re going to hate your story when you’re done, but that’s ok; other people will love it for you. Get your red editing pen out and get ready to dive in deep. This is the stage when you really start to polish the style of your story; when you weed out the micro imperfections that make your manuscript good rather than great. Once you’ve done this you move on to the oral edit which mainly helps with flow, dialogue, and style. Together these make the final editing stage.

The following checklist will help you to finalise your manuscript, but also get your document in the right shape to be seen by agents and publishers;

Final Edits Checklist;

  • Identify and cut your crutch words. Scrivener has a frequency function which can help you to do this.
  • Weed out excessive punctuation. As a wise man once said; “an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
  •  Check for trouble words like: a lot/alot, affect/effect, can/may, further/farther, good/well, lay/lie, less/fewer, that/who, their/they’re/there, then/than, who/whom, your/you’re. Use the right word in the right context.
  • Omit needless words and sentences.
  • Check speech tags; said should be your main, though other forms, like adverbs, can be effective in small doses.
  • Correct any stilted dialogue.
  • Remove unnecessary dialogue and info dumps.
  • Ensure your document is typed in 12 point Times New Roman.
  • Remove double spaces after periods.
  • Use double spacing.
  • Make sure that your indenting is consistent.
  • Ensure that your numbers are consistent (both page numbers and in text. If you write numbers out keep doing so, if you use numbers keep doing so. Its generally better to write figures than use numbers in fiction).
  • Use page breaks between chapters
  • Once more check for consistency in style, tense, and POV.

 

Once you’ve done this and made the appropriate changes to your word document, you’re ready to begin querying! Congratulations; you’re officially the proud author of a finished book!

 

Part one, Part Two

Self-Editing For Success, Part Two

So, you’ve rested your novel and you’re ready to begin the close editing stage, right? If you’re jumping into this series late check out Part One.

 

Well,  here we go guys; say goodbye to the carefree fun (pain) of #amwriting, and say hello to the agonised screaming of #amediting. The close edit really is the fun part, though, so don’t worry too much. Save your tears, tissues, and tequila for the hand editing stage.

 

The basics and the bigger picture

When you first start editing you should look at the bigger picture first and foremost and then slowly narrow your focus. There’s no point in correcting the spelling of a manuscript that may well change entirely before you are done, after all!

Start with what I call the foundation features, or four C’s; these are the things on which your whole novel/story hangs. The big stuff. These are;

  1. Conflict
  2. Characters
  3. Consistency
  4. Contributing Style

 

Conflict

Any novel or story needs conflict if it is to draw attention and interest from the reader. It should begin with conflict, and progress because of conflict. Consider even the most mundane opening scenes from a successful book and you will find conflict, no matter how subtle or visceral.

Filth (Irvine Welsh, 1998) starts with a protagonist at war with his society, his world, and his colleagues;

“Woke up this morning. Woke up into the job.

    The job. It holds you. It’s all around you; a constant, enclosing absorbing gel. And when you’re in the job, you look out at life through that distorted lens. Sometimes, aye, you get your wee zones of relative freedom to retreat into, those light, delicate spaces where new things, different, better things can be perceived of as possible,

Then it stops.”  Pg 3*

 

Survivor (Chuck Palahniuk, 1999) begins with a more direct conflict; a protagonist who has hijacked a plane, and is telling his story to the black box;

“Testing, testing. One, two, three.

Testing, testing. One, two, three.

Maybe this is working. I don’t know. If you can hear me, I don’t know. 

But if you can hear me, listen. And if you’re listening, then what you’ve found is the history of everything that went wrong.” pg 289

Palahniuk adds to the sense of conflict and intrigue, as you will have noticed, by having his page numbers reversed; they count down to the end.

When editing look for the conflict in your story, and cultivate it; ask yourself if it does enough, does it provide motivation and tension, is it believable?

 

Characters

Your character is the focal point of your story, whether you have only one main character or a group you need to put real time into making sure they are strong. By this I mean rounded, unique, and living. They need to breath.

A strong, recognisable voice and consistent mannerisms, as well as a realistic understanding of what your characters can reasonably do (don’t make them flawlessly successful!) are key. Example of instantly recognisable character voices can be found in first and third person, but three examples which truly blew me away are;

Lovey Quinn, The Book of the Night Women (Marlon James, 2009),

“People think blood red, but blood don’t got no colour. Not when blood wash the floor she lying on as she scream for that son of a bitch to come, the lone baby of 1785.” Pg 3.

Logen Ninefingers, protagonist of The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie, 2006),

“Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers, say he’s happy. They were leaving, at last. Beyond some vague talk of the Old Empire, and the Edge of the World, he had no idea where they were going and he didn’t care. Anywhere but this cursed place would do for him, and the sooner the better.” Pg 570

Lina Vilkas/Arvydas, Between Shades of Grey, (Ruta Sepetys, 2011),

“The train churned forward. The rhythm of the rails tormented me, screeching and banging. They pulled me away from Andrius, further into an unknown. The metal lamp swayed above like a pendulum, illuminating hollow faces, throwing shadows throughout the carriage. Janina whispered to the ghost of her dead doll, giggling.” Pg 255

Whether you write in first person or third it is essential that you ensure that the characters personality and mannerisms are maintained when editing; you should check for speech patterns, tone, attitude, and reactions. In third person this is less prominent, but, in cases like Logen Ninefingers (Abercrombie, 2006) you can build a sense of the characters outlook through sayings, mottos, and their outwardly reactions to stress and conflict.

 

Consistency

Consistency in tone, structure, point of view, plot, and tense are essential when editing. Look for plot holes, sudden changes from past to present tense, slips in point of view from one character to another, or from omniscient to one particular character, and of course in the structure of your story.

Following the “Hero’s Journey” plot structure only to switch to a more stream of consciousness literary structure will be baffling at best, and at worst could cost you readers and opportunities.

 

Contributing Style

All this means is; does your plot lead your prose, or vice versa.

If a sentence or section becomes so beautifully wordy that it swamps the meat of the scene and jars the reader out of the action it should be cut. I have no doubt you can write beautifully, but the majority of genre fiction readers want a story before they want fluffy clouds of literary prose.

While you will, over time, develop a style all your own you should still endeavour to write in a way which complements your story. Consider Cormac McCarthy; he writes in a style which is undeniably his. His writing is instantly recognisable, and yet subtle changes in style can be recognised between each book, though they are all, arguably, literary fiction. Consider

No Country for Old Men (McCarthy, 2005)

“I sent one boy to the gas chamber at Huntsville. One and only one. My arrest and my testimony. I went up there and visited him two or three times. Three times. The last time was the day of his execution. I didn’t have to go, but I did.” 

The Road (McCarthy, 2006)

“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more grey each one that what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.”

Blood Meridan (McCarthy, 1990)

“See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark, turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water, but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster.” 

 

I used the first page of each book for comparison, and though I have no doubt you’ll have noticed the differences yourselves, I’ll run down the basics. You most likely picked up on the lack of immediate conflict in Blood Meridan which is found in the other two; this is an older work which I would say hangs on the cusp between a shift in overall style. Blood Meridan was antiquated in style even when it was published, but now you’d struggle to get this opening scene by an editor worth their salt. Keep that in mind when reading to hone your own skills.

The view point, macro, micro, first person, changes in each excerpt, as does the sentence structure and tone of voice. Even the amount of punctuation fluctuated in McCarthys writing; his works are as much visual as they are literate. He changes their presentation as well as his own voice for best effect. The Road is shockingly devoid of any punctuation other than the period. Commas, semi-colons; these are things left behind. His work is as visually sparse as the world he writes. No Country for Old Men employs less punctuation than the average novel, but is written in clipped, hard sentences where the Sheriff takes up his first-person narrative.

In short, McCarthy’s style contributes to the story rather than taking away from it.

You don’t need to employ such extreme measures yourself, but ensuring that plot, not prose, leads your story is a key element of self-editing.

 

Once you have thoroughly checked your manuscript for these key features, and corrected the document of course, you can count your close edit done, put the manuscript in a figurative or literal drawer, and crack open that wine so you and your work in progress can rest together. Once you’ve done that check out part three for final push!

 

Welcome to World Building — Danielle Adams

Hey Lovelies! Welcome to world building. I really wanted to talk about this because it applies to all genres of fiction. No matter where you are placing your story, you’re going to have to make it real to your readers. This can be a little tricky when you’re basing your setting somewhere that a lot […]

via Welcome to World Building — Danielle Adams