May 18, 2013
Novices sometimes fall into shorter lines that only tell where their characters are standing. They only tell the reader ways that characters are moving. It’s all very stage direction-ish. These underwritten shorter lines don’t help tell the story.
There are conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet & so), and there are punctuation marks (commas and semi-colons) that you can use to make a simple sentence more robust. These revision helpers bring more story to your stories. Read the rest of this entry »
Novice writers sometimes focus on the wrong Who, What, Where, When, and How’s in their story. In all my coaching, this is a big thing I teach novices about news ways to write and better editing skills.
You can write about how your characters are feeling, or reacting to the happenings in your story. Showing.
Or you can describe to the reader how they are moving. Telling.
This is where the over-use of prepositions and prepositional phrases come in. Read the rest of this entry »
May 6, 2013
Attention, Sweden, Netherlands and Finland readers,
In the last 30 days, my blog’s received 36 views from your countries. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
For the interest, and the return hits. I work often with international clients.
Feel free to contact me for coaching and story-editing services.
Now, on to today’s post:
In my opinion, I’m reading too many self-published novels that could have used some editing before their authors let their work out in public.
When we’re the only arbiter of what is ready for print we can allow our less than best efforts to be published. I think the problem is we don’t look hard enough at our own work. It may be the fact that self-publishing novice writers are in too much of a hurry to think beyond ‘getting it out there’.
Unfortunately, the whole idea about writing novels isn’t getting it out there – it’s writing something that won’t disappoint your readers with its level of craft or skill.
Look at these blog reviews for my short story collection, Claiming One:
What struck me first about the writing is the narrative voice. It is distinct, commanding, and engaging… The triumph of their stories was due in part to the writers’ craftsmanship and vision, but also to the honesty of the narrative which grounded the fictive worlds deeply in reality.
- Roof Beam Reader blog
They were all hard hitting in their own way, each of the characters touching and affecting, which I loved about the book. The writing was very tight, not overly descriptive, but each of the stories painted a picture in my head that stuck with me.
- Indie Reviews blog
The stories in this collection are intimate and reflective. They will leave you with a sense of wonder when you finish each one. As with all short stories, there is a sense that you’ve been left to ponder that there is more than what is on the page. The characters came alive in most of the stories… I usually only read “The Greatest American Short Stories” and “The Greatest American Mystery Short Stories,” so she had a very high bar.
- Book End Babes blog
To receive reviews like this you need to do the work. You need to not settle for just good enough, common effort. Are you doing that extra work with your writing?
I don’t like having book purchases disappoint me so often. I want every great story idea that the book blurb promises delivered between the covers. I want to see great writing. This is why I coach 1-on-1 and offer story-editing services.
Aside from being a writer myself, I also want to stop and engage each new writer long enough to help clean up their manuscripts. To be over-romantic about it, it’s my life’s work; helping new writers to be better than what I now see offered in the self-published fiction and memoir market.
Novices have great ideas, they want to build wondrous worlds, and accomplish their brave plans, I know I do. But not everyone has enough practice to recognize when their stories have too much summary narration. When there is clunky dialogue on the page. When their overuse of cliches is ruining those great ideas, and brave plans.
That’s what story editors are for. That’s what you learn from coaching. That’s why I want to help.
My blog posts here, and my website with the 52 lessons, are a start. But 1-on-1 work is also offered. I’ve worked well with writers in the US and internationally. Contact me, don’t let your potential readers down.
May 1, 2013
I coach novice writers, offer services in story editing (content – not proofreading). And though folks like these posts just fine, I could use more clients. Here’s what I teach new writers in my 1-on-1 coaching, and what I offer as editing suggestions in my manuscript editing.
Anyone can write first drafts:
Jeri sat at the bar’s table, and picked up the drink. She paused for a second. The smell was awful. But she drank it down, hating the taste.
Laughing was heard behind her, as she sat with eyes closed. Opening them, she gave a look at her companion who was chortling to himself.
Tom teased her about the drink. And it made her defensive.
“It is…offensive,” Jeri the android replied. Since she’d been discharged and graduated from the Group home, she found still she had trouble eating and drinking.
This is a writer telling the reader things. It’s a great start because the writer got some words down on the page. But it’s only story facts being told to the reader, so far. Very little is shown; we see almost nothing physical, visual, visceral. We can’t see much of what this bar, android, or her friend looks like or feels ‘in-scene’. We can’t hear the sounds in this bar. She must feel how her body is reacting to that drink, she must feel something about being laughed at, and a reaction might be in order because of that laughter.
You write well when you look at the first draft and then try showing a reader that stuff by making edits. And the best edits use senses to show more.
Take a look at the First round edits in the paragraph below. Again, like with most writing advice— This topic is aimed at Showing and not Telling: Telling is saying your character is in a seedy bar, having a drink she doesn’t want. And further, that she is not used to solid foods or drink for that matter. Everything in these paragraphs tells right now, and with the five senses they can show us instead.
IF you show it with senses then the extra words can be removed, which leads to a faster, tighter read: right now, these words tell but they are not visual words that show.
First round edits. Trying to show more:
Jeri sat down at a table in the dim bar, picked up the drink before her and took a deep breath. She paused for a second once it reached her lips, already able to smell it. Gathering herself she tipped it down her throat, baulking at the taste.
The sound of laughter filtered through to her as she realized she had scrunched her eyes shut in disgust. Opening them she shot a withering look at her companion who stood chortling to himself.
“That is their mildest drink, and still you can’t hack it,” noted Tom with a shake of the head.
“It is…offensive,” Jeri replied, looking at her glass. It was nearly a year since she’d been discharged and graduated to human interactions from the Android Group home and still she had trouble with simple things like eating and drinking.
Can this be made even more visual, physical and visceral? Here is a sample list of the senses.
Visual – What does this place we are in look like? Colors, textures, shadows, light. Mix it into the narrative – be sparse in this but show it to us in small ways and do that right up front, don’t keep us waiting. Use the senses to show the reader dimness, or silence, or the feel of residue of old, past spilled drinks on the table or the glasses. The time of day.
Smells – the same as above, is someone taking a drink? Don’t tell us that, “Jeri took a drink.”— have the character smell that drink: not in words like acrid, show us the reaction of acrid. Also, smell that ‘seedy bar’. The sweat of the unwashed patrons – machine oil and welding fumes. The amber lights, that conceal in their shadows – what?
Touch – Is a fan blowing? The air still? Is the glass in her hand cool? The bar none to clean? The bar or table where they sit – is it still damp from a rag carelessly swiped before she sat down?
Tastes – not in words “The drink tasted awful.”— in motion — Show us the reaction of the word acrid. Mime to yourself drinking and hating it. Pushing that swallow down. Then write that for us. What did your body do as it mimed? Put this in new ways. Not the tried and true [acrid stench] but in your words for a mouthful of something you’d rather spit out. Write that feeling. Show us. (Remember your verb exercises.)
Sounds – Did ice tinkle when her friend laughed? Did she slam her drink down in disgust? Did her strength of her grip make the glass squeak as she shuddered from the taste? Did she stifle a noise? Is there music playing, have they heard that song before? Is the music from this galaxy or from back home? Have they heard this song 50 times before, this month alone? Make this place come alive. Then do this for every instance when we are now in a new location of your story. Show it to us.
Second round edits. Writing for senses:
Jeri sat down at a table in the dim bar, her shoulder blades meeting tightly as she hunched, she picked up the unwanted drink before her and took a deep breath. She paused for a second once it reached her lips, already able to smell its inevitable stench, like some caustic chemical stored in drums in the mechanic’s bay. Gathering herself she tipped it down her throat, her shuddering intake of breath bringing its fumes into her sinuses, so that the torture lingered.
The sound of laughter filtered through to her as the noises in the bar bounced and magnified, mingling with the jukebox tunes; the rough scuffing of stools and the angry click of pool cues on ivory. She realized she had scrunched her eyes shut in disgust. Opening them she shot a withering look at her companion who chortled to himself.
“That is their mildest drink, and still you can’t hack it,” noted Tom with a shake of the head, his eyes on his own sweaty drink.
The burning sensation had reached an area just behind her sternum. “It is…offensive,” Jeri replied, looking disdainfully down at her glass, her elbows tight at her sides. It was nearly a year since she’d been discharged and graduated to human interactions from
the Android Group home and still she had trouble with simple things like eating and drinking.
What can you do with your own paragraphs? Give it a try, rewrite it using senses and showing verbs. Do it quickly and with the best word choices you can. Don’t be heavy handed with it. If you come up with five ideas for each sense, select the best of the 25 ideas and add those to your first round edit.
Worried that you need a second opinion for your work? Contact me. My rates are low.
We added maybe 80 words or so to our example, but in the final expansion, we also showed much more of this world via senses in the writing that weren’t there in the first draft.
Take any one of your own paragraphs and try this exercise. Make additions that will show us what you see when you visualize your story in your head. The goal is never just MORE WORDS.
If you think coaching will help, I can walk you though these steps in real time.
April 29, 2013
They’re. Their. There.
Are You a Rule or an Idea Person? When it comes to grammar rules I like to make my own and I like them to be memorable. I do that with mnemonics
You can remember that
They’re my friends,
so use y in both words.
You can remember that
Their has the next to I in it –
The book is theirs, I have my own.
You can remember that
There is a from of here (a place to be)
It’s not here it’s over there.
Speaking of new ways to look at old things:
The Voice of Poetry
Poetry is the nexus for all writing, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, screenplays or plays. Maybe some poetry lives in a rarified atmosphere that leaves most readers a little dizzy. I don’t know, but I do know that a fiction writer must be able to breathe that air.
The mastery of language is our duty. We enter this world by placing one word after another in comprehensible and unique ways.
- Walter Mosley, The Writing Life, Washington Post 11/20/05
Giving writers the prompts of ‘archeology’ and ‘relationships’ these two poems came about:
In this heat,
beyond your downward
I observe the
shaking and trembling—
mirroring our moves,
an incessant rhythm
on the desk
where you have
like no collector
Connected by stinging sweat.
But I am not
Though it is true—
you to be an archeologist.
what long has been buried.
Explorer of this
cipher, keep searching—
shift more of this sad sand away.
or better yet,
call me by
my Latin Name.
I found a girl in the sand.
A hand at first,
With more yet to unearth.
At every turn
She burned me.
the surrounding sands.
Grit in places
I never expected.
I dug so deep
keeping a whispered pledge
not to break
She made me work.
my hat fell
from my head in
So that the brilliance of
in our eyes
blinded my discovery
Which do you think was written by a woman, and which by a man? Is that something you decided by the poetic voice they employed, or by the pronouns used?
What would you think if I said both were written by men? Or both by women?
Which poem touches you more? Why?
Did any of the phrasing move you as you read it? Did either poem reach you more than the other? Can you see yourself writing like this?
With your own work – whether Poetry or Fiction, or Creative Non-fiction, or even your blogs, are you writing of I or Me or Mine in ways that are more universal, and less self-facing for your readers? Is that the trick to the mastery of writing that reaches more folks? Telling stories?
April 26, 2013
You’ve been at the grocery store. And something funny happened there, so funny that you want to tell your friends about it. It was so funny, it might be a story you tell to a lot of people. You may even use it in your novel.
So you sit around the lounge at your dorm, or the lunchroom where you work, or some other place you gather at regularly, getting ready to entertain everyone with telling this story. Your friends always like your stories, you’re a person who tells things well, people always listen because they can see you’re a storyteller.
This story from the grocery store has to do with a lady and her four-year-old. It’s hilarious.
Do you start the story like this:
Standing in the check outline waiting for her turn to be rung up, this lady leans against her cart wearing her old work out clothes. A washed out, pale pink crop T-shirt, her midnight blue workout pants rolled down to show her stomach. Her simple white socks, extend up her ankles, in contrast to the black hair scrunchie which holds her blond bangs away from her forehead. She’s holding her son’s hand, He’s got red hair. And he’s dressed in little, brown Oshkosh bib overalls, with a yellow cowboy belt, along with black baby Nike shoes. Finally her turn at the register arrives…
There’s nothing hilarious about what they had on. The funny part was….
Novice writers open their novels with something like this example all the time. With what someone wore. Not why there are being introduced. Not the reason the character is there in the scene, doing something. No reaction from the character to some action for us to see or imagine. No purpose of their existence being illustrated. Just a presentation of the color of their hair, and sixty or more words about what they are wearing.
if you see you’ve fallen into this default type of opening to your novel, try to re-vision your opening scene to give us why your character is there in that scene. Or what they are doing there. At the least, illustrate them so we feel we know something about their character, based on your descriptions.
Unless those workout pants and the cowboy belt are part of the hilarity of your scene, save those details, pepper them (lightly) into the action, reactions, motivations, or emotions of the story you’re showing us ‘in scene’.
Use the detail of your characters’ dress or hair color because it reveals something about them– do they consider themselves a fashion plate? That’s a perfect reason to detail their outfit.
Are they proud or vain? Okay, they show them reacting to how they feel about being dressed to the nines.
Wearing something because they just got paid and could now afford it? Did they run out to buy this thing they wear? Show us the purchase, and their feelings about ownership— don’t start and stop with the item, disclose what the purchase means to them.
Is their blonde hair jet black because they hate their parents this week? Does their makeup or nail polish show something about them beyond how they look?
Look at this example here, a few lines about sixteen year-old Cinda:
Cinda’s black bangs nearly covered her plucked eyebrows. The cap on her un-nerving black dyed hair read ‘Cin’ in red embroidered script. She scratched at her ankle with short bitten nails painted a glossy shade of bruise purple. A small, neat tattoo peeked out from under her busy fingertips: a tiny green frog. Her toenails were painted the same battered shade as her fingers.
This is nearly the same word count as the example above, but here, aside from seeing someone, we’re also given hints in her actions, in the verbs and adjectives used, about who this girl might be and how she might be acting. Along with getting how she wears her hair, eyebrows, and nails.
Do a search in your work – find those less than storytelling descriptions of clothes and hair color you’re telling us about. Revise for the action, reactions, motivations, or emotions of the story you’re showing us.
April 22, 2013
You can’t teach someone to write fiction in a single pass. Writing happens in layers, and the coaching of the craft of writing also happens in layers.
At the base, there’s the mechanics of grammar and punctuation rules, some novices can meet with me and already have a sound understanding of this, while some may need a session because these things were never learned in school. Read the rest of this entry »
April 20, 2013
Welcome to Bridge to Story
Here’s a link to my website.
(52 free writing lessons for novices writing fiction or memoir)
Take work from your mind to the page now. Coaching sharpens storytelling craft & style. See your story shine. All genres, memoir.
Novice writers spend a lot of time reading how-to books and attending workshops and classes. A lot of these offer exercises, story starters and prompts to try out your writing skills…like….
- Write ten opening lines
- Keep a list of unusual names for future characters
- Write a paragraph beginning with the phrase _____
But if you exercise then set aside your resulting work in notebooks and journal you will never discover where those exercises might take you. In this lesson we’ll take the steps of looking at your own work and expanding your exercises by questioning them. The goal is reviewing with an eye for turning exercises into scenes, short stories or novels; by looking at your work and taking the next step: reworking exercises to actually writing more
Check it out now, and then contact me for one-on-one coaching.
April 15, 2013
During the NaNoWriMo months of April, July and November this year I’ll get a lot of emails, Skype messages, and blog posts from novice NaNo-ing writers I follow, saying,
“Today’s word count is…!!”
Some of them are starting at zero. Some are rebelling and adding on to earlier works in progress. Everyone has a goal. Some magic number they’re aiming for.
And I asked, “Don’t you mean, turning this into a novella means rounding out the Female MC’s overall arc and her main problem/desire?”
Because even during NaNo months, word count, if you’re not a genuine beginner, is secondary to a solidly realized storyline.
April 12, 2013
These six previous posts are a sly way of letting you see the type of coaching I offer in one-on-one session with my clients.
Work is slowing, and I could use more novices eager to learn the basics of writing well.
So check these posts out, and tell your writer friends too. Email me for rates. and Re-blog.